My pet peeve, the Oxford comma

As a writer, I have all the typical grammar pet peeves: your vs. you’re, then vs. than, their vs. they’re vs. there. But there’s one that really gets my blood boiling: the Oxford comma.

Also known as the serial comma, the Oxford comma comes after the second-to-last item in a list: “I had eggs, toast and juice” vs. “I had eggs, toast, and juice.” (Merely typing the Oxford comma in that last comparison bothers me.) The AP stylebook, the Bible of journalism copy editing, says not to use the Oxford comma. I learned from that a couple years ago and have been steadfastly against it ever since (though in large part out of stubbornness, some might say). Slowly, the alliance of Oxford comma opponents is dwindling as people go into the dark side. I am one of the lone holdouts.

It just doesn’t make sense to me. It’s totally unnecessary. The “and” takes care of all the separation you need. The comma is a redundant little mark plopped down in the middle of the sentence.

Sure, people will point out instances where leaving out the comma creates ambiguity. But in all of those instances, simply rewording the sentence could do the trick. The most outlandish example I’ve seen is a news alert that reads “Top stories: World leaders at Mandela tribute, Obama-Castro handshake and same-sex marriage…” Perhaps this was a result of an unfortunate break in the text—it was just a mobile alert, after all. But you could also say “Top stories: World leaders at Mandela tribute, same-sex marriage and Obama-Castro handshake.”

It’s really only in news style that I sniff out Oxford commas and decry them. I’m a traditionalist—I’ll admit that much.

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