Oxford Comma: The Kanye West of Punctuation

The Oxford Comma is often the center of workplace banter, especially for those of us in the communications field. Why is that?

If you studied public relations in college like I did, the AP style of writing was likely driven into your head until you couldn’t think straight. All of my professors in the PR department knocked points off assignments if an Oxford comma was used in papers or presentations. I even had a journalism professor who handed out an AP style quiz every week and if you didn’t ace it by the end of the semester, you failed the class.

Let’s just say, I passed the class the first time around and haven’t used an Oxford comma since.

So what exactly is this point of contention? The Oxford (or serial) comma is defined as a comma used to separate the second-to-last item in a list from a final item introduced by the conjunction and or or.

As an example, here is a sentence written both with and without the Oxford comma:

Without Oxford Comma: I like apples, oranges and bananas.

With Oxford Comma: I like apples, oranges, and bananas.

The comma is the most overused and abused punctuation mark in English. To avoid bombarding readers with over-punctuation and unnecessary pauses, a good rule of thumb is to only use a comma in a sequence when clarification is needed.

For example: I dedicate this award to my parents, Jane Austen, and Albert Einstein.

Without the Oxford comma, the statement above could be interpreted as stating that your parents are Jane Austen and Albert Einstein. Cool, but not likely.

In the end, whether or not you use the Oxford comma is a style choice (a bad choice if you do, but a choice nonetheless). As for those of us in the public relations world, we vehemently object its use.

It’s 2019, people, and the year of interrupting sentences with Oxford commas like Kanye interrupting Taylor Swift at an award show is over.

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