Communicators are passionate about many things—jargon
and linguistic mistakes
rank high on any list—but few things rile communicators like the Oxford comma.
Also known as the serial comma, the Oxford comma sparks a clear divide between communicators. You're either for or against it.
As an infographic from OnlineSchools.com explains, the Oxford comma got its name from the Oxford University Press, where printers and editors traditionally used it. When you use the comma before the conjunction in a series of words, its job is to clarify the meaning of the sentence.
For example, which sentence is clearer?
"I would like to thank my parents, Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey."
"I would like to thank my parents, Bill Clinton, and Oprah Winfrey."
The second one, right?
But in sentences with more simple lists, that kind of confusion is absent:
"She wore tan shoes, pink shoelaces and a polka-dot shirt."
The Chicago Manual of Style, Modern Language Association, American Medical Association, and others recommend the Oxford comma because it clears up ambiguity and makes lists easier to understand.
But the Associated Press, New York Times, and The Economist are against it because it can cause ambiguity and be redundant.
Where do your loyalties lie?
[FREE DOWNLOAD: 10 punctuation essentials]
Fun fact: While the Oxford University Press still uses the serial comma, the Oxford University PR department does not.
Check out the graphic for more.
(View a larger image.)
This article first appeared on Ragan.com in Feb. 2014.