Unless you’re Cindy Knoke, you might be wondering why I’m dedicating a whole post to Oxford commas and subjecting you to the onslaughts of my full-blown philosophical panic attack about this relatively minor conundrum of the English language which occupies a significant portion of my non-productive hours. There’s a very good reason for this which I will likely fail to address. But onwards and upwards, as they say.
If you have read my About page, you will know that I have confessed to having the occasional philosophical panic attack over coffee-shop bloggers [editor’s interjection: Stop trying to guilt me into buying organic, free-trade, naturally decaffeinated early gray and lay off the sea salt hair spray already–if I want a latte full of fatty milk that belongs to the slaughtered calf I ate for dinner last night, I’m gonna pay my $5 and have it, gosh dang it], and Santa Claus [I can’t even talk about this one or it’ll make me so hot and bothered I’ll never get to the point of this post], and, you guessed it, Oxford commas.
What is the Oxford Comma?
Whether you have a hazy idea of what the Oxford comma is and need a quick refresher or are as intimately familiar with this hairy language mole as I am, I strongly encourage you to resist the urge to pull out a dictionary or conduct a Google search and just sit back and take my word for it. I am, after all, the resident Oxford comma expert on this blog and while you are here, the rest of the contextual world doesn’t exist.
Side Note: The Oxford comma is not to be confused with the Oxford coma, a deep-seated fear that gripped the heart of the English nation for 3 1/2 years in the 1950’s and led to this guys commitment to practice contemplative non-blinking.
Let’s stop evading and define this melanoma, shall we?
Stage 1. Defining the growth.
The Oxford comma is when you have 3 or more items in a list, and you decide instead of letting the final conjunction (usually the word ‘and’) stand in place of a comma as is its entire reason for existing, you’re going to go ahead and add a comma anyway just for the heck of it.
Some will try to argue that it’s not just for the heck of it. It’s actually for clarity. I would argue that clarity is overrated. Some will also argue that if you have need of an Oxford comma, your sentence is already weak and you should rewrite it rather than trying to ‘rescue’ it with the Oxford comma. I would argue that I don’t believe in eradicating weak sentences, just as I don’t believe in eradicating weak children. You may choose designer babies but my writing is all natural and edit-proof, just as God intended.
Stage 2. Research the Prognosis.
You can read some fabulous examples (and more fabulous comments) on this Grammarly article. These lovely tidbits talk about Lady Gaga & Humpty Dumpty’s love child. Then an all out war breaks out in the comments section which starts with slanderous claims of one person being a terrible writer for asking a ‘proper use’ question and another person being accused of being a ‘grammar nazi’ (ahem…my spellcheck says that’s grammar Nazi, friend) for asserting a strong preference for the Oxford comma. It ends with the collective smelling of cheese and grass, as all good wars do.
I had prepared an example but I’ve lost all motivation to go on. The war was long. The cheese was aged. It was a good example too. It was about the size of the fourth dimension, ballerinas and Brad Pitt’s penis.
Or was it about the size of the fourth dimension, ballerinas, and Brad Pitt’s penis? You see here, I trust, the confusion I’ve created.
Was I talking about the size of ballerinas and the size of Brad Pitt’s penis in addition to the size of the fourth dimension? Or perhaps I was talking about Brad Pitt’s penis in relation to ballerinas, a separate topic of conversation entirely from the size of the fourth dimension. All distinct possibilities, friends. How many topics of conversation were there? Was it 2, 3, even 4? Was it as limitless as the dimensions we’re surrounded by? The world will never know.
Stage 3. Understand the origins.
Maybe you think this whole debate is an elaborate hazing ritual started by these dancing Oxford boys because it’s no longer enough for the elite to haze themselves. They must now haze all of us too.
And maybe if you’re not bound by a style guide at school or work, it ultimately just comes down to personal style. But if it is just personal style, which is more stylish? Because let’s face it, I need to be ‘on trend’ if I’m going to be successful at this writing thing.
Stage 4. Embrace your inevitable fate.
On the one hand, I could be loose like an American poet who embraces, nay delights in, the grey area of interpretation between the size of the fourth dimension, ballerinas and Brad Pitt’s penis. Heck, in this world, my ambiguous reference to Brad Pitt’s penis in relation to ballerinas shrinking waistline and the invisible fourth dimension was more than intentional. It was art.
On the other hand, maybe you care about context. Maybe you think that clarity must always win. Maybe you drink tea with your pinky up and insist on using an Oxford comma even when it isn’t necessary for clarity, just to make a point.
Maybe we will never agree with one another on this point (the we I refer to being the two severed halves of myself). Maybe I will continue to waffle between embracing and rejecting the Oxford comma for all my days, spreading mass confusion and being judged for my failure to master any individual style throughout all my writing. Because we all know mastering is just another word for ownership and I don’t want to own the Oxford comma.
End Stage. Stopping treatment.
I hope now that we’ve come to the end, if nothing else, I’ve successfully passed on my philosophical panic attack to you. I ask that you take up the torch and extinguish my fire because I’m tired of carrying it. It’s time for me to #Brexit from this conversation. Until next time.