Why the Oxford Comma Matters


Brinly Johnson, Editor

While most grammatical styles seem to be accepted and followed by most, there is one grammatical choice that sparks debate among writers and English teachers, the Oxford comma. The Oxford comma, or more formally known as the serial comma, is a comma placed last when you are listing things in a sentence. An example of the Oxford comma is: My dogs are Precious, Ella, and Chloe. The example without the Oxford comma is: My dogs are Precious, Ella and Chloe. Whether or not the use of the comma is required depends on the style rules you follow. AP (Associated Press) style doesn’t require the use of a serial comma but, the Chicago manual of style does indeed require the use of a serial comma. While the Oxford comma is not considered grammatically correct, it has become a popular debate on whether or not it should be. 

The Oxford comma can be traced all the way back to Herbert Spencer, a Victorian generalist who popularized the phrase “survival of the fittest.” However, the comma got its name from Horace Hart, a printer for the Oxford University Press. This is where he created “Hart’s Rules for Compositors and Readers,” a guide for employees working at the printing press. This guide gained notoriety and was beginning to be used by many others, thus gaining the infamous nickname, the Oxford comma. Many style guides, including Horace’s, are extremely similar except no one can agree on whether or not the use of the Oxford comma is necessary. 

The common reasons given as to why the Oxford comma is not necessary are the use of the comma can introduce ambiguity, it is inconsistent with the use of it in the pertaining region, and that the comma adds unnecessary bulk to the paragraph. While these are all valid reasons as to why the comma should not be widely used, they simply aren’t true, and there is a court case to prove it. The ten-million dollar comma is a popular case that involved Maine’s Oakhurst Dairy Farm. Delivery workers claimed they were owed years of overtime pay. There was a statement made to workers that included a grammatical error, the absence of a serial comma, creating ambiguity. Oakhurst claimed the comma was not necessary and that the workers had misread the statement, Thus leading to the court case O’Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy.   After the long case and intensive verification, the judge ruled in favor of the employees requiring Oakhurst Dairy to pay over ten-million dollars to work for overtime. 

Even though the court case has legally proved the importance of the Oxford comma, many still vigorously disapprove the use of the comma. Those who are against the use of the comma claim it is “pretentious” and a “waste of space” on the paper. Even though the comma has its enemies, it is very widely used among students and educators. The writing styles used universally by students don’t require the use of a serial comma, but a variety of students claim they were taught to use it in grade school while learning to be grammatically correct. 

Though the Oxford comma has proven time and time again to be an important and beneficial part of being grammatically correct, the comma can’t lose its bad reputation. With one of its biggest misanthropes being the American band, Vampire Weekend. They start off their hit song titled, “Oxford Comma”, with ‘Who gives a (retracted) about an Oxford Comma?’ Well Vampire Weekend, we do, we care about an Oxford Comma, they matter.