Saturday, October 27, 2012

31 Days: Day 27 — The Oxford comma and why editors will always have jobs.

Copied and pasted directly from a discussion board at for people who are working or trying to find work in the publishing industry comes this new evidence that there will always be a need for copy editors:

"I have been in the Publishing Industry for 11 years and left now 3years ago but is struggling to get back into the trade. I am currently doing a Business Management Diploma and is looking for a job"

I hope this young lady's diploma includes courses in basic grammar and writing. 


Let's talk about the Oxford comma, and since this is my blog, I'm going to do all the talking.

Also called the serial comma, it refers to the last comma (the one directly before and) in a series. For example, She had cereal, milk, and fruit for breakfast. We list three (or eight, or ninety-seven) things, and each item is followed by a comma, including the item just before the and.

I don't care what your arguments are, you will never convince me that the Oxford comma should not be used, and for the record, CMOS agrees with me. If CMOS ever changes its collective mind, I will stand firm on my own mountain of punctuation clarity and insist on using it.

Take this example from the jar of Nutella in my own kitchen:

In their example of a tasty yet balanced breakfast, they begin with a glass of skim milk, and then put orange juice and Nutella on whole wheat bread.

Do you see the problem?

That's not what I want in my bowl first thing in the morning. Use the comma to make it "a glass of skim milk, orange juice, and Nutella on whole wheat bread."

Now, there are people who say we should only use it when its needed to avoid confusion. Let me just tell you why that doesn't work.

It doesn't work because the rules of punctuation are all about consistency, and it is the consistency that lets us figure out what the writer means. If we know the Oxford comma is always used, and we still see a statement like the one on my Nutella jar, then we KNOW the writer means to put orange juice and Nutella on his whole wheat bread. If there's no consistency, we don't know anything—other than that the writer eats nasty stuff for breakfast, but we're not sure, because how do we know whether he is a user of the Oxford comma or not? Maybe he means it to be that way. Or maybe he is just not a user of the Oxford comma. How do we know?

We don't. Be consistent. Use the comma.

Be thankful ~


Ben said...

And this post is proof positive that my wife is beautiful, lovely and occasionally in error. You see, the Oxford comma is redundant. The comma is used to separate things in a list when used in this fashion. It is unnecessary when used before the and because our venerable friend and does the separating for us. The Oxford comma is then redundant and hence unnecessary. Consistency comes in the form of separation and AND does that for us. :-) Love you Sweetheart, but you'll never win that one!

Anonymous said...

I'll let you and Ben duke it out there, but I have to agree that I was taught to place the comma before the 'and'. I will likely teach my children the same way. =)