The Oxford Comma is Unnecessary and Overrated
Self-proclaimed grammar sticklers love the Oxford comma, and use it religiously as a sign of their superior literacy levels over that of unedified savages. Most people, in fact, make use of this punctuation mark mainly because they were instructed to do so in school, and such habits are hard to break. The Oxford comma, also called the serial comma, supposedly reduces ambiguity in written lists. Why, then, does the Associated Press Stylebook (the writing guide used for virtually all written publications, including the staff of yours truly, Lamplighter!) and countless other corporations and firms dismiss it? As the following examples indicate, although in some instances the comma successfully clarifies sentences, in just as many cases it creates further ambiguity. Consider: I invited my parents, the Obamas, and Santa Claus. The Oxford comma has been placed correctly, but still there is uncertainty as to the identity of the first two items. Are the Obamas my parents, in which case I simply provided the second item in the list to clarify? Or are the Obamas separate from my parents, whom I invited in addition to the other two parties? Despite the inclusion of the comma, the world will never know! This pattern holds true also in the case of plural versus singular items in a list. If you were to say I spent time with my pets, Meryl Streep, and Superman, then the Oxford comma effectively separates the three subjects. But if you were to just change the first item from plural to singular – I spent time with my pet, Meryl Streep, and Superman – the Oxford comma once again creates more ambiguity than it alleviates, implying that Meryl Streep is, in fact, my pet. Omitting the comma would, in this case, actually render the sentence more clear. Essentially, the comma’s only advantage at this point is the opportunity it creates for grammar snobs to correct you when they see it missing from your sentence. Do them a favor (and boost your own sense of grammatical self-worth) by showing them that their beloved serial comma is really nothing more than a waste of ink.