Unless you’re an English teacher or grammar guru, you may be wondering, What the hell is an Oxford comma, and why do I care? I assure you, whomever you are and whatever you do for a living, the Oxford comma is nothing short of perfection, and you do care.
You care very much. You do. SAY IT! I do. Good job.
The Oxford comma is the “optional” comma that comes before the words and, nor, or or in a list. I say “optional” in quotation marks there because it’s really not optional. Some people like to pretend it’s optional, but it’s totally not. NOT. OPTIONAL.
Proponents of the Oxford comma (hereafter known as The Right Thinkers) believe the Oxford comma lends clarity to a sentence, making it obvious where items in a series begin and end or that there even are items in a series being presented. Let’s take a look at that Oxford comma example again:
Thanks to the Oxford comma, we know without a doubt that there will be several guests at the party, most notably some cannibals, Mother Teresa, and a booger eater from math class.
Opponents of the Oxford comma — journalists, antiestablishmentarians, and lazy bum scratchers (hereafter known as The Wrong Thinkers) — believe, on the other hand, that the Oxford comma is unnecessary and takes up too much space. That’s right. Too. Much. Space.
“It’s imperative that we save some of this copy space here, people!” they say. “Let’s eliminate immensely helpful punctuation so we can write more words! Who cares if nobody can understand those words? MUST. HAVE. MORE. WORDS!”
The problem with The Wrong Thinkers’ mentality is that in eliminating the Oxford comma, some sentences either lose their meaning or stand to potentially confuse readers. Let’s look at our previous sentence example without the Oxford comma, for instance:
Oh my God! Mother Teresa was a cannibal?! I’m not so surprised by the booger eater, if we’re being honest; that guy was eating his own boogers, for Christ’s sake. But Mother Teresa? NOOOOO!
You see, in eliminating the Oxford comma there, The Wrong Thinkers run the risk of readers not interpreting the sentence as a list of party guests, with cannibals comprising only a fraction, but rather of readers interpreting it as an explanation for the specific cannibals they have invited. That’s because without the Oxford comma, the phrase “Mother Teresa and that kid who always ate his boogers in math class” acts as an appositive phrase, or a phrase that renames the noun before it — in this case, the cannibals.
Basically? Without the Oxford comma, everybody thinks Mother Teresa and the booger eater were flesh-eating monster wankers, and that’s a shame, really. The booger eater was a pretty nice guy, all oddities aside.
It doesn’t matter whether you have a career in publishing or get paid to Snap Chat pics of turtles doing the Macarena, the Oxford comma is your friend. Your BFF. Your brotha from anotha motha or sista from anotha mista. Because we all know nobody wants this…
…to be misinterpreted as this: