Thursday, April 7, 2011

The "Oxford Comma?"


I made a brief visit today to Kidlit.com where I encountered the latest blog post about the "Oxford Comma."

I didn't know it had a name.

Kidlit describes it as:

It’s that last comma before the last “and” (or sometimes “or” or “nor”) in a sentence with a list of three or more items. This is a smartypants comma, as it’s also sometimes called the Harvard comma (or the serial comma).

It seems that in the deep, dark recesses of my Baby Boomer education we were taught that this final comma was required. So I obediently inserted it.

Decades later someone somewhere decided that this final comma was optional. The science-based state agency where I was employed thought this was a good idea.

I obstinately demurred and inserted the "Oxford comma" whenever and wherever I could get away with it.

Admittedly, this was a form of rebellion. I am an English major. I took several composition courses in college and studied well-written fiction. After college I enrolled in fiction writing courses and I continued to read extensively. My scientist coworkers ended their education in writing with the freshman English Composition class that was required for their BS degree. Those who went on to a graduate degree were taught to write their research papers in the passive voice (while fiction/nonfiction writers have the active voice drummed into us). Needless to say, it greatly rankled me when these folks offered writing advice (although I tried to be professional and make appropriate edits).

I believed the "Oxford comma" added clarification and alleviated confusion. During much of my career as a public employee I worked with state statutes and administrative rules. Whether drafting rules or interpreting statute -- grammar proved to play a significant role in the application of the law. If you venture into the comments made on the Kidlit blog you will find an attorney's take on the significance of the "Oxford comma."

Anyway -- I am proud to use the "smarty pants comma." It didn't ring true to me at the time when I was told it was more "modern" to drop the last comma. Today I feel vindicated. And in good company. :-)

1 comment:

gowestferalwoman said...

LOL. You English majors...lol.

And you are right, where you put an "inflection" really does matter in Law - as you would know...!

But what the heck do I know, I am just a lowly Animal Science Major, Minor in Equine... LOL!