Grammar Pet Peeves: Word Crimes and the Oxford Comma

Well, most people have seen this in the week since it came out, but I’ll place the video here, just in case you haven’t.

 

I agree with Weird Al.  Except for his blase attitude about the Oxford Comma, that is.

My publisher prefers Chicago Style when it comes to style manuals, so I’m expected to use the Oxford comma in my writing. However, I also believe it’s clearer. Here’s an example:

rhinoceri-washington-lincoln-oxford-serial-comma

(source: Verbicide Magazine)

 

If there’s no comma separating the second term in the list and the conjunction, then the two terms following the first comma can be seen as modifiers for the first term.

This might help:

I gave the book to my eldest brother John.”  The structure of the sentence means that the indirect object is John, modified by my, eldest, and brother.

I gave the book to my older brother, John.”  The structure of this sentence means that the indirect object is brother, modified by my, older, and John. (The implication here is that there is more than one older brother, and therefore we have to clarify it by specifying John. In the first version, since we have eldest brother (and there can only be one of those), clarification isn’t needed. John was clearly the subject all along.)

Likewise, if there are two terms following a single comma, they can both be seen as clarifying the first term. Admittedly, most people will understand that it’s not meant that way, but most people also know which is meant when a texter confuses there, their and they’re. That doesn’t make it correct.

The point I’m making is that I don’t agree with Al that the Oxford comma is just a bunch of drama. I like it, and he’s not going to take it away from me.

 

#SFWAPro

 

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Grammar Pet Peeves: Word Crimes and the Oxford Comma

  1. Ah, but “We invited my rhinoceros, Lincoln, and the vice-president.” leaves the question if Lincoln is a person on his own or the name of the rhino. In most cases, I do prefer the Oxford comma, but it’s not without its flaws.

  2. I was under the impression that in the song he was recognizing that the oxford comma was optional. The lyrics go “But I don’t want your drama… If you really wanna… Leave out that Oxford comma…” I’m not 100% certain what he’s trying to say about the oxford comma

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