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Oxford Drops Oxford Comma

Oxford University has dropped the Oxford comma!

In its “branding toolkit,” it offers the following advice:

As a general rule, do not use the serial/Oxford comma: so write ‘a, b and c’ not ‘a, b, and c’. But when a comma would assist in the meaning of the sentence or helps to resolve ambiguity, it can be used – especially where one of the items in the list is already joined by ‘and’:

They had a choice between croissants, bacon and eggs, and muesli.

 

GalleyCat’s Jason Boog notes, though, that the Oxford University Press, which is commercially and editorially autonomous, has not made the switch.

This is a distressing trend. While omitting the trailing comma in a series often doesn’t change the meaning, it sometimes does with hilarious results. We would avoid these gaffes by routinely using the Oxford comma, rather than hoping people remember to add them in when ambiguity would be created.

via Brian Fung

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Trumwill says:

    Can somebody explain to me a clarity-rationale for not having that comma in there? There are instances where leaving the comma out ads confusion. What instances does putting it in add confusion?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  2. michael reynolds says:

    Trumwill:

    It’s better for the environment.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  3. Boyd says:

    I’ve always followed the practice that Oxford is now adopting. I can think of two reasons why I do that: 1) I was taught to write that way, and B) since I try to write how I speak, it sounds more natural to my brain’s internal ear to leave out the serial comma, unless including it ehances understanding as in the bacon and eggs example.

    I’m not saying “these reasons are why you should quit using the Oxford comma,” just that they’re my reasons for writing the way I do.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. Fog says:

    Oxford commas suck. They’re redundant. They drink all your liquor, flick cigar ashes on the carpet and don’t even flush when they use the can. Good riddance to bad punctuation!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3

  5. mantis says:

    The Oxford comma is largely unnecessary and harmless, but what is really important is consistent style. Know your style manual and follow it consistently. Where I work, we use a slightly modified version of AP style, which does not use the Oxford comma. Before that, I was a Strunk and White man, which does mandate the use of the Oxford comma.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  6. John Burgess says:

    I was taught the serial comma and continue to use it. I find that in my sentence constructions, the comma is usually necessary for the sake of clarity. It’s more convenient to stick with one rule than to keep going back and forth based on whether it’s absolutely necessary in the end.

    As for the why, the Brits seem to be moving away from superfluous punctuation marks in general. Honorifics such as Mr and Dr are written without the periods we use in AmE.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  7. Tano says:

    What instances does putting it in add confusion?

    Wiki has an interesting article on this subject. They use as an example of introduced ambiguity (in both the leaving out and putting in case), a book dedication:

    To my parents, Ayn Rand and God

    Without the comma, one could conclude that the author claims Ayn Rand and God as parents. This would be resolved by use of the comma.

    If, however, the dedication reads:

    To my mother, Ayn Rand, and God

    One could read Ayn Rand as being in apposition to mother, hence claiming her as mother. Omitting the comma in this case would resolve the matter.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  8. Boyd says:

    @Tano: A solution (the one I would use in this circumstance) to which would be:

    To God, Ayn Rand and my mother

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  9. Boyd says:

    Meaning, there are usually more (and sometimes better) ways to remove ambiguities than by adding or omitting commas.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  10. James Joyner says:

    @Boyd: Yes, you beat me to it. In this case, rewriting the clause is the only way to truly avoid confusion. Presumably, the author’s mother meant more to her than God or Ayn Rand and your rewrite does change the hierarchy.

    Not clear in any order: Why someone would dedicate a book to both God and Rand, given that Rand was a devout atheist.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  11. Ernieyeball says:

    Larry, Curley and Moe, and Shemp and Joe!!!
    Yuk, yuk and yuk and, yuk, yuk!!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. Boyd says:

    Then there’s the panda who eats, shoots, and leaves.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  13. Ernieyeball says:

    Curly. AGHHHHH!!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. Michael says:

    This is why lists should always be enclosed in square brackets:

    “Dedicated to [my parents, Ayn Rand, God].’ or, if you really were the offspring of Rand having sex with God: “to my parents [Ayn Rand, God]”.

    Software engineers never have a problem doing things this way.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  15. Boyd says:

    I’m thinking I’d do it this way, Michael:

    public string dedicatees[] = ["parents", "Ayn Rand", "God"];
    public Dedication dedication = new Dedication(dedicatees);

    Presuming the appropriate constructor definition, of course. 😉

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  16. Trumwill says:

    One could read Ayn Rand as being in apposition to mother, hence claiming her as mother. Omitting the comma in this case would resolve the matter.

    Well drat. That does make it less black and white than I had thought.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. Michael says:

    Boyd, thanks for reminding my when I love Python so much.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  18. Franklin says:

    And what if you are thanking a whole list of people, some of whom need qualifiers?

    Anyway, I was taught to use the comma and was later shown that it reduced confusion, so I’m going to stick with it. I don’t care what Oxford, Boyd, and mantis say.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. Michael says:

    Franklin, that’s he best part, the square brackets can be nested:

    “Dedicated to: [my parents [Bob, Alice], Ayn Rand, God]”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. Franklin says:

    While I appreciate the software engineer approach, since I’m one myself, I’m not sure if the public at large is big on nested brackets. I once used nested parenthesis in a college English paper that was intended to be funny. The teacher wasn’t impressed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. Andrew says:

    Jesus Christ how many times am I going to have to read Ayn Rand’s name today??

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0