Of all the wondrous and beautiful grammatical conventions, perhaps the most controversial is the Oxford Comma. Over the years, this contentious convention has incited furious debate amongst grammar lovers and even inspired a popular song by Vampire Weekend. Recently, Maine’s choice to forgo using the Oxford Comma has sparked a lawsuit that could end up costing the state $10 million, proving the absolute necessity of this magnificent convention.
The Oxford Comma may seem trivial, but it can drastically change the meaning of a sentence. Many see this debate as a pretentious one, but the Oxford Comma is vital, even in everyday writing. For example, if someone says, “I love my parents, Beyoncé, and Chance the Rapper,” this makes perfect sense. However, if someone removes the Oxford Comma, the sentence becomes quite different in saying, “I love my parents, Beyoncé and Chance the Rapper.” Some argue that it should be up to the reader to decode this sentence, but this is ridiculous. If someone does not keep up with pop culture, they may see nothing wrong with the idea of Beyoncé and Chance the Rapper having a child together. Thus the second sentence could leave them extremely misinformed, which is the antithesis of quality writing.
The Oxford Comma is even more important in formal writing. Even though the AP Stylebook — which most major publications follow — rules against the Oxford Comma, it is unwise to do so. For example, the sentence, “In his free time, President Donald Trump enjoys eating, his wife, and his children,” makes perfect sense. However, if the Oxford cCmma is removed, the sentence becomes quite different in reading, “In his free time, President Donald Trump enjoys eating, his wife and his children.” Despite grievances some may have with the President, no one is suggesting he is a cannibal. However, without the Oxford Comma, the aforementioned sentence suggests just that.
The Oxford Comma is a magnificent piece of grammar that is vital to the fluidity of the English language. The comma can drastically alter sentences, causing confusion and even legal disputes. In a world where words have considerable power, we must ensure clarity. If not, it is only a matter of time until something drastic happens because someone was confused in the absence of the outstanding Oxford Comma.
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 Andrew Heying at [email protected]