Comma Trauma

Look, I admit it.  I care about the Oxford comma.  In fact, I care enough to call it the “Oxford comma” rather than the “serial comma.”  Oxford comma makes the comma sound sophisticated and worldly, whereas serial comma makes it sound like the poor comma is getting ready to join the ranks of Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy.

For those who don’t care passionately about this important topic, the Oxford comma is the comma that should come before the conjunction when you list three or more words or phrases.  So, if you’re talking about greatness, LeBron James, and how Cleveland bashers can go pound sand, the Oxford comma is the little guy that follows LeBron James.

the-oxford-comma_52c855ed979ed_w1500Some style guides, like the AP style guide that most American newspapers follow, say that when the sentence involves just a simple series, you should get rid of that comma and go directly to the conjunction.  I think the AP’s reckless and inexplicable decision in that regard is almost certainly solely responsible for the general decline of newspaper circulation in the United States over the past 50 years.

Why do I care about the Oxford comma?  It has nothing to do with dueling grammarians, punctuation prissiness, or trying to trace commas back to the English of Chaucer.  Instead, I think the Oxford comma is essential because writing and reading is all about cadence and the little voice in my head.  When I’m really reading something, and not just scanning a sign or an internet pop-up ad, a little voice in my head is reading the words along with me.  When I write something, that little voice is there, too, writing along with me.  The little voice cares about punctuation, and flow.  And when I write about sadism, Ramsay Bolton, and starving dogs, the little voice wants to pause for a moment after Ramsay Bolton, to savor his richly deserved demise, before moving on to the agents of his destruction.  The alternative is an unseemly headlong rush to the end of the sentence.

The Oxford comma is the literary difference between a cool walk on a spring morning, where you’ve got time to admire the tulips, the budding greenery, and the sun’s warming rays, and driving by in a stuffy car.  That’s why I’m a proponent of the Oxford comma.

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