When I was in eleventh grade, I had an English teacher that crushed my dreams of being a writer, an aspiration that was later revived by a kick-ass journalism teacher the following year. (Shout out to Mr. Patterson!) Other than that devastating slap to the face, she also taught me exactly what was up with this whole ‘Oxford comma’ business.
I had not known what a controversy this simple punctuation mark was. The literary community is divided, for sure.
In college, I have learned that the Oxford comma is an unnecessary, frowned upon part of writing. Buck Ryan made it clear during the first few lectures of Journalism 101 that you were NOT to put that extra little flick of the wrist at the end of your list. In fact, I’m pretty sure that was a specific part of his guide book, Writing Baby.
However, many years ago, I was told specifically that Oxford commas were important. All commas matter. I was shown a comic, very similar to the one featured in this article, showing a comedic take on just how wrong it was to read a list without the pause.
With two very conflicting points of view on such an important subject being taught to me in my formative, adolescent years, the question arises: Where do I stand on the ‘Oxford comma’?
The Oxford comma makes so much sense to me as a writer. A comma is indicative of a pause. Although it does not go during every implied pause, it does make it easier on the reader as their subconscious tries to separate phrase from phrase. In a list, it is no different.
The title of this tells you how I feel, not about the Oxford comma, but about how they are treated by professors and writers alike. A list without said comma reads thing one, thing two and thing three together. For example, Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson and Anthony Michael Hall. What party is Judd and Anthony having that Molly wasn’t invited to? That defies all laws of eighties movies. However, if you were to say: Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, and Anthony Michael Hall, you might just be listing the cast of The Breakfast Club.
Another example of the flawed ways of omitting the Oxford comma is by stating, I like dinner, my dog and my cat. What you’re telling me in that sentence is that your dinner consists of a main course of pup and a side dish of purr. If you were to say, I like dinner, my dog, and my cat. I’d understand that you just happen to like three separate things: dinner, your dog, and your cat.
Now, I do understand that many style guides are not against the Oxford comma, many of which I’m not familiar with. However, as a studying journalist, our coveted AP Style Guide strongly disagrees with it.
As an eighteen-year-old college student, I’m going to be the first to say that there’s nothing I can do to change the basic mechanical workings of the journalistic style. This is truly just a rant. If someone is inspired by how angry I am about this controversial punctuation mark, start a petition, but until that day, I am going to complain about it and groan every time I have to hit the ‘delete’ button on my computer while writing an assignment for Journalism 204 to be rid of it.
Thank you and good night.