Do you Oxford?

There are a lot of things that tear people into two different groups, and I’m not talking about the upcoming Presidential election.

There are those who are divided into:

Twitter vs Facebook people — I love both of you for different reasons.

Bacon lovers vs bacon likers — I fall into the latter.

Harry Potter fans vs Twilight lunatics — Seriously?

50 Shades of Grey readers vs closet 50 Shades of Grey readers — I will never pick up that book. That you know of.

Oxford comma users vs non Oxford comma users — Let’s discuss this further.

Such a little guy. Such a big impact.

Oh, I’ve seen many a heated Twitter debate rise up over the use or non use of the Oxford comma. What’s an Oxford comma?

The Oxford comma (also known as the Harvard comma, obviously because smart people use it) is a comma used directly before a coordinating conjunction (and or or, and sometimes nor) that precedes the final item in a list of three or more items. Example: My children’s names are Rachel, Claire, and Zoe. See? I knew there was a good reason to have a third kid.

Use of the Oxford comma can help resolve any question or ambiguity concerning a list of items. It’s consistent with the Chicago Manual of Style and Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, neither of which I even own, but whatever. Some say that it’s redundant to use with a conjunction, or that it can cause further ambiguity, but the only problem I see with the Oxford comma is that some people choose not to use it.

Take this sentence, for example: My cat barfed, ate some food, and barfed again. See that Oxford comma in there? Here’s how I read that sentence:

My cat barfed [pause for ew], ate some food [pause more dramatically because seriously what’s going to happen next?], and barfed again. [This is where you gag and wonder why I’m telling you this in the first place.]

Now with no Oxford comma: My cat barfed, ate and barfed again.

I read this sentence like this: My cat barfed [pause because ew], ATEANDBARFEDAGAIN. [And now you’re wondering why I sound like a meth addict. And possibly still wondering why I’m telling you this.]

But aside from causing someone to talk all fast and crazy and in all caps, the Oxford comma serves the purpose of separating items. For example:

My kids like to yell, run, and throw shit around. [This indicates that they like to do all of these marvelous activities separately]


My kids like to yell, run and throw shit around. [This version indicates that the running and throwing of shit are conducted together.]  [Make note: my kids actually do all three of these together, but I’m unsure of the grammatical explanation for that description.]

See? It’s just plain confusing and irresponsible to leave it out. Think of the children.


So now that we’ve got it straight which grammatical way I swing, it was time to put my marriage to the test. I have to admit, I was nervous. I mean, what if he didn’t, you know….Oxford?

I snuggled up close to him in bed. “So um, you know what an Oxford comma is, right?”

[Scrolling through iPhone.] “Uh….” [Dammit!]

“You know, the comma that comes before the and or but in a list of items?” [Please say yes! Please say yes!]

“Oh, yeah. Ok.” [Still scrolling.]

So….do you, uh…use it?” [OMG SAY YOU USE IT!!!!]

[Scrunches up face.] “Uh, yeah. I’m pretty sure I do.”

“You’re damn right you do!!!!!”


Whew! That was close. Another marriage saved by grammar.

Join the Conversation


  1. I hate the Oxford comma. I was taught that your intelligence directly correlates to your use of extraneous commas. Plus, getting accepted at Harvard is difficult. The classes and grading are not, which is probably why they use an extra comma.

    PS. Can we still be friends?

    1. I’m going to have to think about this for a long time.

      Ok, I’ve thought about it. Yes, we can still be friends.

      I think my love for the Oxford comma is mainly because that’s the way I was always taught, and seeing it missing is like a glaring eyesore to me. I’m a bit resistant to change.

  2. After your story I think it would be rude, distasteful, and crazy not to Oxford. (Glad Chris passed the test)!

  3. I use it, and there are times that I don’t use it. Honestly, I probably just forget or am to lazy or don’t know to use it. I swear I am grammer deficient.

  4. OK, I’m with you on some of it. Verbs? Absolutely. (My dog ate, barfed, and got thrown out the back door.) Simple list of nouns? Not so much. (We ate hot dogs, sausages and birthday cake on Saturday.)

    And when I first saw the subject line, I was thinking footwear. I’m tempted to take a picture, post on G+, and plus you in to notify you of it. (Not on Twitter OR FB.)

  5. Haha, phew, that was a close one! Also, I’m a huge fan of the oxford comma, but I work for a peer-reviewed journal and not using one is our style guide’s edict.

    It’s quite the traumatic reconciliation.

  6. I don’t use it naturally but being a creator of run-on sentences, I am trying hard to incorporate it. You have convinced me it is a worthy effort. 🙂

  7. I had a similar (but more traumatic) conversation with my husband a few months ago. I was ranting about the disappearance of the Oxford comma, when suddenly he drops the bomb: “I don’t think we need the Oxford comma, and see no problem with its decline.”

    Somehow we’re still married. Forgiveness is divine.

  8. This post is hilarious, amusing, and informative. I do use the Oxford comma, but did not necessarily know it was so named. I also like to distinguish between my children screaming, throwing shit, and running around like crazy people. Sometimes those things do happen independently of one another.

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