In Defense of the Oxford Comma


The Oxford comma is among the hottest of topics of late. (JORDAN MELTZER/THE OBSERVER)


Some people might enjoy a peaceful day of sailing down a river, fishing rod in hand. Others prefer the excitement of hopping from one club to another on a Friday night in the big city. As for me, I take great joy in nitpicking the intricacies of grammar and mechanics. I find the nitty-gritty details of the rules of the English language fascinating. Editing articles submitted to me by contributing writers at The Observer is, quite frankly, enthralling. But there is one aspect of being an assistant editor that is interminably perturbing: having to remove the Oxford comma from every list I read.

If you are unfamiliar with the Oxford comma, allow me to present an example. Read the following sentence: “The only people who know my deepest secrets are my ex-girlfriends, my sister and my first cousin.” That sentence is technically correct according to the Associated Press Stylebook, called AP Style for short, which The Observer, like many publications, employs to maintain grammatical and stylistic consistency. However, if you read it carefully, it implies that my ex-girlfriends are my sister and my first cousin. Since incest is not exactly appealing to me, it is best that I add a comma after the word “sister.” That comma, commonly referred to as the Oxford comma, would be a clear indicator that there are three separate direct objects for the verb “are.” But if I had written that Oxford comma there, it would not have been printed in this newspaper since it does not adhere to AP Style.

The Oxford comma truly is a victim of bullying—nay, oppression. Scholars have debated its very validity for decades and still, in 2017, some people fail to recognize its full potential. The comma could be a contributing member of society, providing clarity beyond a reasonable doubt that a list is, in fact, a list. Unfortunately, though, those in power have stripped it of its capabilities and left it a measly dud in the history of the development of English mechanics.

Refusal to utilize the power of the Oxford comma could have catastrophic consequences. In fact, it already has. A court in Maine put $10 million on the line when three truck drivers sued Oakhurst Dairy for not paying them overtime. Whether or not Oakhurst owed them millions of dollars of overtime pay came down to the lack of an Oxford comma in a Maine state law. The court, of course, eventually ruled that since there was no comma where it should have been, the law was ambiguous, and Oakhurst did owe the truck drivers their pay (though the amount was not disclosed). This is proof that I am not exaggerating. The Oxford comma is a potentially multi-million-dollar matter.

I know that I cannot simply petition the Associated Press to alter its stance entirely, especially since this is such a hotly debated issue in modern Western culture, and I am but one man. Still, Rome was not built in a day; revolutions do not happen overnight. I take pride in small acts of defiance: using the Oxford comma in grocery lists, text messages, emails and more. I invite you to join me. The justification is in our favor: we are on the side of convenience, social justice and the law. Together, we can overthrow the minds at the Associated Press and instate the Oxford comma into newspapers for all eternity.

I implore you: do not end up on the wrong side of history. Use the Oxford comma. Together, we can start a revolution.