Dear, Vampire Weekend, I give a f*** about an Oxford comma. I do. This amazing punctuation mark adds order and clarity to otherwise confusing sentences.
I’m not a logomaniac or a grammarian. I am, however, a logophile. I’m in love with words, sentences, paragraphs, and language in general. I like to hear language spoken. I prefer reading to watching videos, and I’m obsessed with subtitles. I like typography and spend way too much time worrying about leading and fonts and how letters and words look. I enjoy few things more than figuring out how to write something in a way that my audience (sometimes just myself, sometimes others) will understand in exactly the way I want that audience to understand it.
So what does all this have to do with an Oxford comma? I’m getting there, don’t you fret.
The Oxford comma is a comma used before “and” or “or” in a list of three or more items. For example, my favorite cities are New York, Paris, and London. That comma after “Paris” is an Oxford comma, and it’s one of the sanest damn things in today’s anything goes linguistic crazytown.
Clear Writing vs. Lazy Writing
In The Federalist, Nathanael Blake says using an Oxford comma encourages lazy writing. He writes, “Oxford commas are the galoshes of grammar: sometimes necessary to avoid a mess, but never elegant. Mandating the Oxford comma is inimical to good writing. Just as we omit unnecessary words, so too should we excise excess punctuation.”
“Each needless comma is an excrescence,” he says. Context, he continues, “moots the need for the Oxford comma.”
The Oxford comma has its fans and its detractors, no question. However, my question is this: what exactly constitutes lazy writing? Writing typo-laden social posts, emails, business proposals, and work reports that include run-on sentences and egregious logical fallacies? Using words like “inimical,” “excise,” “excrescence,” and “moots”? Using words like “logophile,” “logomaniac,” and “grammarian,” perhaps?
I’ve been working as a professional writer and editor for 92 years (approximation). Heads up: Ditching the use of the Oxford comma only makes bad writing even more common than it already is. Blake acknowledges that rules may help struggling writers avoid egregious mistakes. That Federalist thought bubble he’s living in must really be something, because he doesn’t seem to recognize that bad writing is every damn place the world round except The Federalist.
I Give a F*** About an Oxford Comma
Most people are lazy writers, and that includes most people who claim to be professional writers. That sound? That’s me throwing down the gauntlet. I can’t make heads nor tails of much of the writing that ends up in my inbox, for example, and I can’t bear to scroll through my Facebook feed. To be clear, this laziness has everything to do with a lack of writing education and training or a lack of interest in applying any writing education or training received. Said another way, this laziness has little if anything to do with a punctuation mark.
So, yeah. I give a F*** about an Oxford comma.
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