I was going to title this after the opening line of Vampire Weekend’s “Oxford Comma” but with the lyrics being “Who gives a f*** about an Oxford comma?” I decided to take it from the next line instead. Either way, without that song, I wouldn’t know what an Oxford comma is. I thought it was called a comma.
The literary world received some earth-shattering news a few days ago when the Oxford University Press abolished the Oxford comma. Before I’d even heard of OUP style, I was taught that the proper way to list items in a sentence is like this:
Raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles, and warm woolen mittens are a few of my favorite things.
That comma before the word “and” is called an Oxford comma or a serial comma. It used to be good and now it’s bad. Last Thursday, the correct form became this:
Raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens are a few of my favorite things.
I don’t like it. It’s not just because of my extremely liberal use of commas. In one of my high-school English classes, we had a peer review where we corrected each other’s papers. I received a note scribbled over my essay on A Clockwork Orange that read, “Too many commas!”. I’ve never received that comment since, but I know it’s true. One reason I use a lot of commas in my writing because they belong there in most cases. They also correspond with the way I think. My penchant for parentheses is also a reflection of my scattered thought process, although there is no grammatical justification for it.
I knew I had problems with commas and parentheses, but as I flipped through the pages of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style at work last week, I felt more and more embarrassed at my other grammatical errors. One of my co-workers expressed his annoyance at people who write “CD’s” and “the 1980’s” and I was ashamed to admit that I had written about “the 1980’s” almost five minutes prior (although I do use “CDs”). Still, what about “mind your p’s and q’s”? Is it “mind your ps and qs”? No. Should it be? I don’t know. It’s not mentioned in the book.
The Oxford comma news broke the next day. However, the OUP revised its statement a few hours later, saying that in some cases, the extra comma is correct. For example:
They served cereal, toast, and bacon and eggs.
If there’s a list with two things that comprise one item, then the Oxford comma is permitted. Great. Now we have two new rules to follow.
I’ve decided to stick with the Oxford comma regardless. The three people in my office who proofread my work agree with me on this issue, so I have nothing to lose. Besides, I doubt that many people would care if a description of an irons set includes “a 460cc titanium driver, a #4 hybrid, and a mallet putter”. Like the song says, who gives a f***? Beside writers, anyway.