As someone who makes a living writing, I am embarrassingly bad at grammar—especially when it comes to commas. I once joked that I must have missed the week in third grade when commas were covered, but I’m afraid it might be true.
I recently asked two friends who are much better at grammar than I am to proofread my manuscript for overall mistakes, but especially for commas.
When my friend and former co-worker, Lydia Sine, gave me her marked-up copy, almost every page had at least one comment about commas—either removing one that shouldn’t be there or adding one that wasn’t. Any time I went three or four pages without a comma being corrected, I worried that she had accidentally skipped the pages. It was that bad.
This weekend, I got the second round of edits from a friend and published writer, Jessica Katoff. Eager to see her notes, I skimmed through the manuscript, and on the top of page 9, I saw this:
I had to laugh that it only took 9 pages for my stance on Oxford commas to reveal itself.
When I posted this photo on Facebook, people started chiming in with their opinion on the matter. And yes, this is something that people have opinions on. I’ve come to realize that people either don’t care at all or they feel really strongly—either loving or hating the Oxford comma. There is no in-between.
While I am proudly in the hate camp, it seems that most of my friends are in the love one. So, I decided to take advantage of this platform and present my case against the Oxford comma.
Before I get into my reasons for being anti-Oxford Comma, I should admit that I am also anti-exclamation point.
I wish I could remember the writing instructor that first opened my eyes to the idea that an exclamation point was a crutch for writers. This teacher, whoever he or she was, explained that it was better to use your words than a punctuation mark to indicate strong feelings.
Easier said than done, but every time I find myself using an exclamation point, I stop and look at the sentence to see if there’s a way I can make that intense emotion or excitement come across with my word choice, either in the sentence itself or in the way it’s attributed. Of course, sometimes you can’t avoid it, but I always give it a second thought.
I feel the same way about Oxford commas. With a little extra effort, the problem they solve can be avoided.
For those who don’t know what the Oxford comma is, here’s a definition: In a list of three or more items, a comma is placed before the coordinating conjunction (usually ‘and’ or ‘or) in the list.
I understand that in academia (including grade school), the Oxford comma is taught as the way to go. In advertising, however, we tend to use a less formal, more common writing style.
Three of my friends who also graduated from the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications chimed in on the Facebook debate. They all shared my outlier opinion against the Oxford comma, making me think that maybe it was something ingrained in us there along with our love of all things orange and blue. #GoGators
One of my old roommates, Kristin White Owen, remembers being taught that the Oxford comma was just wasted space and ink—which used to be a lot more valuable back in the day when most media was in print form instead of digital.
People who argue in favor of the Oxford comma are quick to point out situations where the lack of comma can cause some confusion. Here’s an example of the case FOR an Oxford comma, illustrated by a cartoon:
To that, I say this:
There’s a better way to make the sentence work that doesn’t require that extra, unnecessary comma. Just rewrite the sentence to read like this:
We invited JFK, Stalin and the strippers.
Problem solved. No Oxford comma necessary. Just like that exclamation point, with a little more effort you have a perfectly good (maybe even better) Oxford-comma-less sentence.
For those of you who are in the I-don’t-care-either-way camp, here’s a video of the song “Oxford Comma” by Vampire Weekend. Thanks for adding this to the ‘heated’ discussion, Craig Ferrence.
And for those of you who are judging my bad grammar and counting the comma mistakes in this post, I’m sure there are a few. That’s why I have good grammar friends 🙂