A friend on Facebook just brought an article to my attention at the Business Insider that has fired up a passion in me like few other topics do. And you're going to laugh when you realize the title is 13 Rules For Using Commas Without Looking Like An Idiot, but hear me out.
Item 4 in the article is "Use commas to separate items in a series". It continues "For example, "I saw a duck, a magician, and a liquor store when I went running. That last comma, known as the serial comma, Oxford comma, or Harvard comma, causes serious controversy."
Don't laugh, I've come close to physical blows over this issue.
The official Associated Press style guide rejects the Oxford comma, creating sentences that are confusing at the least, and often factually incorrect at the worst. The National Press Club, home to a lot of good folks from the AP, adheres to AP style in many internal publications. A few years ago, I wrote regularly for the Club's internal newsletter, the Record, and while I loved the individual members of the team there, I hated their position on the Oxford comma. I used the Oxford comma in my articles, but it was always edited out by the rotating editors of the week.
I was shocked when I first encountered this, and I complained passionately, arguing that the edit totally changed the substance of the sentence. For example, to write that "the entries, received from committees such as New Media, Book and Speakers, were processed Friday" implies there's a "Book and Speakers" committee, and there isn't, there's a Book committee, and then there's a Speakers committee. But I was told "well I think our members know that".
I would argue "so what? Other people read this! Why go out of your way to transform clear sentences into confusing, misleading statements?" The answer: "because we follow the AP style guide".
Even when I became a rotating editor, if I included the Oxford comma, I was confronted on it by other editors who declared I was in "violation", like I should be fined or something.
There were some in the group who recognized what I was talking about, thankfully. And apparently Business Insider recognized the problem, so now I love Business Insider.
But this drove me absolutely crazy. Years later, it still irks me.
There is no good reason to deliberately confuse people. If you don't love the Oxford comma, get over yourself and embrace it. Otherwise, as Business Insider warns, you'll risk "looking like an idiot".
They said it, I didn't.
Shout it from the mountaintops. Shout it throughout the world in every home, school, and office. And that's three distinct places, not two places named "home", and "school and office". But you knew that already, thanks to the Oxford comma.
- Specific Steve
P.S. If you noticed my use of quotation marks with periods is also in violation of AP style, well, there is a reason for that too. That may be the subject of a future blog post.