Right-o, Oxford Comma

Originally posted on Agritate, which is no longer active.

Lately, posts about the Oxford comma abound out there on the web. I know it’s one of those polarizing issues—and, it seems, my love for the series comma (‘cause, uh, I didn’t know it was also called the Oxford comma, I’ve always called it the series comma) aligns with most other bloggers (although, perhaps not that of their commenters).

It’s nice to have the support of my love of that little clarifying piece of punctuation, but I’ve been enjoying the crazy graphics people come up with.

Image from WeKnowMemes

This particular version of this graphic was edited by someone down the road to include dialogue—a lot of graphics that “show” why the series comma is important seem to think a series of two items would still use a comma (the unedited version has eggs instead of a dude talking to toast and orange juice). I understand that the graphic artist is trying to impress upon people how not having that comma can confuse the reader—but this modified example is grammatically what the sentence could say without a comma. If a reader actually thought someone was talking to toast and orange juice, well, that’s a different issue, but how about the sentence “We invited the strippers, JFK and Stalin.”? Three ways to interpret that: someone invited the political dudes and some party girls to a get-together (series without the series comma); someone is telling the political dudes that the strippers have been invited; or someone is telling someone else that the previously mentioned strippers have been invited (in the case where the names had not been previously used in conversation, then the comma wouldn’t be here, so this third interpretation takes some assumptive background storytelling—but it’s the one that makes this next graphic so frakkin’ entertaining).

Image from The Gloss

Perhaps oddly, the Oxford style guide says not to use the Oxford comma, unless there’s something more obviously confusing going on (when one thing in the series includes an “and” within the unit).

I just think a series comma is more clear to the reader. And, in the case where you’re talking about strippers named JFK and Stalin, well, there are always better ways to phrase the idea you’re trying to convey.

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