Oxford comma

Thank You 5,000 Times Over

5,000_posts

On April 2, my blog reached 5,000 views. I’ve published 59 posts since November 2011. The first one discussed billboard copy; my most recent post recounts how I lost a wheelchair one weekend. To date, the three most popular posts are Why We Love Oxymorons, In Praise Of The Oxford Comma, and On Fences And Letting Go.

Readers have come from all over the world. The largest contingents hail from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. Lone readers have clicked in from Belize, Estonia, Papua New Guinea, and Zimbabwe.

What started as a forum about writing, grammar, and words has evolved into something more personal. On a good day, I hope the blog comes close to William Zinsser’s description of memoir: “a window into a life, very much like a photograph in its selective composition.”

The only thing better than writing the pieces is having you read them. Thanks.

In Praise of the Oxford Comma

Thanks to my son, Peter, Vampire Weekend’s song “Oxford Comma” now resides in my iTunes library. I love the song, especially its insistent chorus “Who gives a @#&! about an Oxford comma?” I do, of course.

The Oxford or serial comma precedes a conjunction (“and” or “or”) before the final item in a series of three or more. For example: red, white, and blue or Yeats, Shaw, and Beckett. Some people omit the second comma; others, including me, retain it. (And some people, as Vampire Weekend points out, don’t give a @#&!.)

Why do I? Two reasons:

1. Clarity. The serial comma ensures that there is no ambiguity about what you are trying to say. Consider this sentence: Among my heroes are my two sons, James Joyce, and Larry Bird. Remove the Oxford comma and the meaning is no longer clear: Among my heroes are my two sons, James Joyce and Larry Bird. Looks like the writer and basketball legend are now part of my family!

2. Consistency. Since the serial comma is essential to avoiding confusion in some instances, I prefer to use it in all instances. In writing, consistent punctuation conveys command of the language and craft. Haphazard use of the serial comma will make your writing look sloppy.

Language, like us, is constantly evolving, so it is inevitable that conventions will change. However, I hold fast to the tradition of the Oxford comma – not because it’s old school, but because it contributes to clear communication.

Where do you stand on the Oxford comma debate?

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