It’s inspired Facebook groups, exasperated countless writers and editors, and probably fueled more than a couple divorces: the Oxford comma.
Otherwise known as the serial comma, this seemingly-innocuous punctuation mark inspires both ardor and hatred, depending on whether you’re for or against using the thing.
With serial comma: “I like dogs, cats, and fish.”
Without serial comma: “I like dogs, cats and fish.”
That’s right — the little , differentiating those two sentences is the subject of an all-out battle.
The Oxford comma: Yes or no?
Below, ten word workers weigh in on the punctuation debate.
About the strippers, JFK and Stalin
“Despite what some people claim, the Oxford comma is not inherently more logical or less ambiguous than the alternative,” says Joe Kessler about the widely-circulated “stripper, JFK and Stalin” graphic (drawn by Anne Ferguson).
With the Oxford comma: We invited the strippers, JFK, and Stalin.
Without the Oxford comma: We invited the strippers, JFK and Stalin.
“A writer seeking to avoid possible alternate readings should write in such a way that all unwanted ambiguity is removed. This does not always require using the Oxford comma, but it does not require always avoiding its use either.”
In the Glendale News-Press, June Casagrande, author of It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences, offers another angle on the whole rulers-in-fishnets thing: “Change the first noun phrase from plural ‘the strippers’ to singular ‘the stripper’ and you’ll see why: In ‘The stripper, JFK, and Stalin,’ the serial comma, instead of preventing confusion, is causing confusion. It’s creating the possibility that JFK is an appositive of ‘the stripper.’ That would mean he is a stripper. Omitting the serial comma would preclude that possibility. We invited the stripper, JFK and Stalin.”
So does that mean she’s voting yea or nay? “It doesn’t matter, as long as you’re consistent,” Casagrande says, and adds, ” Just don’t believe that either side has cornered the market on preserving JFK’s dignity.”
Are you a friend or foe of the serial comma? Post your views below in the comments, then take our poll: Oxford comma: Love or hate?