Stop Using the Oxford Comma


Emma Rudd, Deputy Opinion Editor

On Monday, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit decided that a Portland dairy company may have to pay up to $10 million in overtime, depending on the court’s reading of a state law. It all depends on an Oxford Comma — or lack thereof. In this instance, those who support the use of the Oxford Comma have won one round in the never-ending grammar debate. However, despite this, the Oxford Comma remains an unnecessary embellishment in the writing process — only required when the original message of the text is already ambiguous.

Professional and notable publications like The New York Times and The Economist don’t use the Oxford Comma and still maintain a reputable standing. If they can produce a fluid and precise collection of work without the Oxford Comma, then why can’t everyone else? Oxford Comma supporters frequently cite the need for clarification by using obscure examples, such as if one were to write “I love my parents, Beyoncé and Chance the Rapper” then the reader will assume that the author’s parents are Beyoncé and Chance the Rapper. Yet these few random cases are the only instances where Oxford Commas would matter, and even then, the entirety of the piece should clarify the meaning of the sentence in question.

It is also frequently argued by supporters that the Oxford Comma is necessary for formal writing —  like in novels or poetry — but it still remains just as unnecessary. The silent punctuation mark does nothing but add an extra character to a piece. If the integrity of the sentence is so completely changed by the addition or exclusion of a simple comma, then a quick rewording is the best option. If the formality of the piece hinges on a tiny black mark, then maybe the whole work should be reconsidered.

Although the lack of an Oxford Comma has prompted a possible $10 million loss for the Portland dairy company Oakhurst Dairy, this case is an anomaly. If the state law on overtime work was reworded more precisely, the need for the Oxford Comma would be irrelevant. While many supporters will cite this incident as a need for Oxford Comma inclusion, the opposition has already gained ground with the dismissal of the comma in the AP Stylebook and acknowledgment of the comma’s unimportance by the popular band, Vampire Weekend. It’s time to dispose of the meaningless comma for good and simply produce more fluid and unambiguous writing instead.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them. A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March 20 print edition. 

Email Emma Rudd at [email protected].