Why I love the Oxford comma


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The Oxford comma, also known as the series comma, is used before “and” in a list. To Logan Colman’s disappointment, the comma is not used by most newspapers, including The Carroll News.

Logan Colman, The Carroll News

Although I tend to consider myself a very open-minded person, there is one topic that I refuse to change my view on: the Oxford comma.

I recently attended The Carroll News’ first meeting, and I was reminded of the fact that in the Associated Press style of writing, all journalists are forbidden from using the Oxford comma. Upon hearing this, I experienced a visceral reaction: my muscles tensed, my face grew hot and my leg bounced vigorously. In that moment I became inspired to use this topic that I hold near and dear to my heart as my very first article for The Carroll News.

The exact origins of the Oxford comma itself is unclear. We can tell from its name that it obviously came from Oxford University in England, particularly the Oxford University Press. The term “Oxford comma” was coined by Peter H. Sutcliffe in his book “The Oxford University Press: An informal history.” He attributes the comma to a man named Howard F. Collins, who had published a book in 1912 called “The Authors’ and Printers’ Dictionary.” This dictionary contains a definition for both the words “and” and “, and” (with a comma) in the same term.

Collins adds a personal story in regards to the latter,” and ”where a friend had written him a letter inquiring “whether to write ‘black, white, and green,’…” or “‘black, white and green’”. Collins responds that he much preferred the former as “to [him] the comma is of value as marking out the component elements of a thought, and where any set of components of a thought are of equal value, they should be punctuated in printing and in speech equally.”

By leaving out the Oxford comma, the term “black” appears to have more value in the list than the subsequent terms. One may also mistakenly conclude that “white and green” are components that make up “black.” It may seem arbitrary but we should never underestimate humanity’s capacity for stupidity. Truth be told, I intentionally read sentences lacking the Oxford comma in this manner in order to prove my point that the absence of this comma renders a sentence silly and unprofessional.

Unless you are an English major or are as passionate about punctuation as I am, you may have read this article and are left wondering why I wasted my time rambling about a stupid comma. It’s just a comma after all, isn’t it? I disagree.

The exclusion of the Oxford comma is a symptom of a greater problem in our society. We are all different but we each hold the same value as people. We each have our own goals, quirks, and passions. We are Catholic, Jewish, Islamic, Protestant, atheist, agnostic, et cetera. I wrote this article to start a movement. Our generation is young, full of vigor and more than capable of making a difference. I ask my fellow journalists to join me in taking a stand against the tyranny of the AP by including the Oxford comma wherever you can. I have done that very thing with this article. If it is changed, just know that it is the AP attempting to silence my voice on the matter.

Collins concludes in his “Authors and Printers Dictionary,” “The late Herbert Spencer allowed me to quote from his letter: — “whether to write ‘black, white, and green,’ with the comma after white, or to leave out the comma and write ‘black, white and green’ — I very positively decide in favor of the first. To me the comma is of value as marking out the component elements of a thought, and where any set of components of a thought are of equal value, they should be punctuated in printing and in speech equally. Evidently therefore in this case, inasmuch as when enumerating these colors black, white, and green, the white is just as much to be emphasized as the other two, it needs the pause after it just as much as the black does.”