Around FtB »« Houston Cancer Quack gets a message

And now for some real drama…

Let’s have a big drawn-out fight over something that really matters, that will draw in lots of comments, and will infuriate some readers.

Let’s argue over the Oxford Comma.

Line up and take sides. I am most definitely PRO-Oxford Comma, and if you think otherwise, I’ll beat you up.

Comments

  1. dianne says

    DEEP RIFTS!!!!

    Part of a conversation I once had with a native German speaker about the vagarities of English, German, and other European languages:

    Him: “Can you explain English comma rules?”

    Me: “…” “…” “Well…” “Um…” “No.”

  2. Beatrice says

    I’m trying to introduce the Oxford comma into my writing, but I don’t always remember it. English isn’t my first language and no teacher ever went to the trouble of teaching us details of comma rules (see dianne’s #3, except that I’m not German).

  3. shouldbeworking says

    After being accused of slacking off a few posts ago, I’m definitely supporting PZ(ed) on this topic. The comma is needed!

    The latest Bachmann tirade: the hunt for commasupporters in the White House.

    I can see the committee hearings now. “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Comma Party of America?”

  4. Alverant says

    Gotta go Pro-comma. Otherwise it looks weird as if the last two items in the list are combined.

    The convict’s last meal was potatoes, steak, red licorice and tomato soup.

    Tomato soup with bits of red licorice in it. Yum. ;)

  5. says

    I’m bi-sexual when it comes to comma usage, I go both ways depending on the intent of the content and whether it can be misconstrued.

    You want some *real* drama, let’s talk about whether sentences should be separated with one or two spaces.

  6. Draken says

    the vagarities of English, German, and other European languages

    Oh, you mean the vagarities of English, German and other European languages?

    /seeks shelter

  7. Aratina Cage says

    @Alverant: Exactly. If you want the last two items in a list to be ambiguously coupled, then skip the last comma; otherwise, do the right thing and put a comma between them!

  8. says

    The Oxford Comma reduces ambiguity more often than it produces ambiguity. As the Oatmeal points out, it’s the difference between inviting the strippers, JFK, and Stalin, and inviting the strippers, JFK and Stalin.

    And Brett– Two spaces after a period is an anachronistic holdover from typewriters, which could produce hard-to-read text if you didn’t do it. For text composed on modern computer software, one space!

    (This conviction cost me 9% of my grade in high school typing– my typing teacher wanted two spaces, I produced articles from the MLA saying that it was anachronistic and undesirable, she didn’t care.)

  9. Onamission5 says

    In lists, as with the last meal example, I am generally Pro, although even in such cases there are ways to go about wording so that one does not end up with licorice tomato soup. In all other configurations I am Anti Oxford and that is the way it should be for everyone, so help me.

    *dodges flung fruit*

  10. RFW says

    Important edict: if the Oxford comma makes a difference one way or the other, then you need to either re-phrase your sentence, or use stronger punctuation. To take two of the examples from Mental Floss and make them unambiguous:

    “She took a photograph of her parents, who are the president and the vice president.”

    “Those at the ceremony were the commodore, the fleet captain, the donor of the cup (Mr. Smith), and Mr. Jones.”

    “Those at the ceremony were the commodore, the fleet captain (the donor of the cup, Mr. Smith), and Mr. Jones.”

    Remember: English alllows other punctuation than the mere common and period. In the case of lists, parentheses, dashes, colons, etc may be more appropriate than the weak, overused comma. And a small re-write is often the right cure for ambiguity.

  11. Louis says

    Oh for fuck’s sake.

    PZ, stop posting things I agree with. I am an Oxford Comma user. I feel no shame in announcing that. Yet again we agree on something. This sort of thing only fuels the fires of those who accuse you of setting up a personal cult, just like Uncommon Descent, an atheistic cult of personality with you as the gatekeeper of what is proper atheism and such like.

    If we all keep agreeing about incidental things like this we’re just proving the detractors right. Next you be saying things like “chocolate, it’s quite tasty” and “bacon, it’s good in sandwiches”. When will the madness end?

    I’m off to breathe some more air…oh shite. I bet you do that too don’t you? Fuckety fuck fuck. Well I’m not stopping.

    Louis

  12. subbie says

    The whole argument is silly and pointless. Only lazy or bad writers need concern themselves about this question.

    As the comments to the article demonstrate, sometimes using the Oxford comma increases confusion, sometimes it increases clarity. It all depends on the structure of the particular sentence. The entire issue disappears if writers simply read what they write and, if it’s ambiguous, rewrite it.

    But go ahead if you want and waste a day quibbling over something irrelevant. I’ll just sit back and look superior to both sides.

  13. jojo says

    I’m generally pro-comma, but I’d like the issue to remain unresolved so that I can live with myself when I leave it out of twitter posts.

    I am, however, firmly in the “one space” camp.

  14. eric says

    Step 1: write your sentence without it.
    Step 2: ask if a naive reader would understand what you’re trying to say correctly with it written this way.
    Step 3: if yes, leave as is. If no, add the oxford comma.

  15. Sili says

    The only people who can get confused by the lack of a comma, are those who’ve been indoctrinated into the cult. I’ve never had any trouble reading texts with the damn thing. In fact, on the rare occasions that I notice commas, I find the serial comma intrusive and annoying, breaking up the rhythm of the list.

    Uh huh. This coming from someone who refuses to accept that no one is two words, not one word.

    A personal peccadillo that I’m not suggesting anyone else follow, save for the editors of the New Yorker.

  16. slowdjinn says

    “Documentary on Merle Haggard. Among those interviewed are his two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall.”

    The defence rests, m’lud.

  17. says

    Well, I’m a conformist (and in the U.S.), so I use it and require it of my students.

    But I certainly understand the other side of the issue: the comma is a substitution for an omitted “and,” so there really shouldn’t be a comma when the “and” isn’t omitted.

  18. says

    Seems to me that all the examples where the Oxford comma could possibly make a difference in clarity or ambiguity, are best avoided altogether. Either you can tell from context which interpretation is the correct one, in which case the presence or absence of the Oxford comma doesn’t matter, or you shouldn’t have been so ambiguous to begin with.

  19. says

    The Associated Press Style Guide eschews the Oxford comma. And since that was my style for the first 20+ years of my writing career, I also eschewed the Oxford comma. Even if I had dared to insert a comma in the Oxford position, it would have been deleted by a copy editor. Do that enough times, your performance evaluation will include a notation “doesn’t follow AP style”.

    In my second career, I was writing primarily for press consumption. No Oxford commas allowed.

    Now, I’m writing more-formal material. The Oxford comma is required.

    Frankly, I’m exhausted trying to figure it out. I find myself throwing commas into copy at the drop of a hat. Let the copy editors and proofreaders battle it out. Heck, they need to find something wrong to justify their existence. A few commas here and there keeps them from doing more mischief.

  20. meursalt says

    I’ve been a staunch and strident pro-Oxford commaist since the age of 8 or 9. Whenever reading aloud something that omits the final pre-conjunction comma, I make sure to run the words together to make it clear I’m interpreting the final two items as either a single entity, or an epithet for the person being addressed. And I make sure my tone expresses proper contempt for the writer.

    I didn’t have many friends as a kid.

  21. subbie says

    Caine @ 26, if I were worried about looking silly, do you think I would have posted in this thread at all?

    Tony @ 34, of course I do. That’s why I weighed in as I did. If I thought it were serious and of actual importance, I might have tossed out a dry and scholarly-like response such as RFW’s @ 20. Instead, I elected to throw a tiny little bit of gasoline on the fire while at the same time pointing out that the whole is much ado about nothing at all.

  22. Parse says

    I’m a bit comma-apathetic, as I use the Oxford Comma some of the time, leave it out other times, and never really pay attention to when I do what. The main exception to that rule is when I’m venting my spleen, wanting to have a bit of fun and embracing my inner asshole by doing both in the same paragraph.

  23. meursalt says

    #37:

    This is just yet another example of the AP Style Guide being a load of crap. It deliberately panders to the ignorant usages of the reader, rather than trying to lead by example. This doesn’t only apply to grammar, but also to definitions of words commonly misused by the public.

  24. says

    @14. Again, when I started my journalism career, it was with an upright manual typewriter, and double spacing after periods was required. No exceptions.

    In the digital age, every copy editor and proofreader in the past 20+ years has requested/required me to eliminate that extra space. It took a while, but I’m thoroughly re-trained. You can teach an old dog new tricks.

  25. says

    @43. Oh yes, I quite agree. But when your job evaluation depends on using the thing — well, you use the thing. Raises, better assignments, promotions, and all the rest depend on it. (Heh: look at me, violating it right here and now.)

  26. Matt Penfold says

    If I recall the AP Style Guide also suggests that punctuation that is not in the original should be placed inside the quote marks. So no, it would not seem a good guide at all.

  27. Amphiox says

    I believe in bipartisanship. Therefore I move that a commission be established to negotiate a fair compromise for a voluntary guideline for comma usage going forward. We will call it the Yale comma.

  28. meursalt says

    #46:

    Interestingly, every journalist I’ve spoken to or heard from on the subject of the AP Style Guide had similar low opinions of it. It makes me wonder who the hell actually writes and defends the thing.

  29. Gnumann+, Radfem shotgunner of inhuman concepts says

    I can’t believe nobody has said this yet.

    (I use the little blighters occasionally though, when needed)

  30. Nancy New, Queen of your Regulatory Nightmare says

    Can this marraige be saved? I’m a pro-Oxford comma technical writer. My spouse is an AP-Style using anti-Oxford comma outdoor writer. I am completely fidgeted when he asks me to edit his text.

  31. left0ver1under says

    The standard way of writing is thus:

    The US’s flag is red, white and blue. Canada’s flag is red and white.

    According to PZM and Oxford, this is what you should be writing:

    The US’s flag is red, white, and blue. Canada’s flag is red, and white.

    Please explain how the second sentence is improved by adding the comma.

    If you need a reason to omit a comma before a conjunction, speak a list aloud. You say the last in a down tone and all the preceding items with an up tone. The comma and up tone indicate the list is continuing, while the “and” and down tone indicate the end of the list.

  32. says

    P.Z. Meyers, as a long-time reader of this site and clearly not someone who’s visiting and commenting for the very first time, I must register my disapproval of this topic. I remember when you used to talk about science and atheism, but now it seems like every post is about pushing your radical grammarist agenda. The humanities are poisoning atheism, and I suggest you turn a skeptical eye toward the claims of the rad-gram cult that you’ve bought so completely and uncritically. Certainly I agree with some tenets of grammarians, but these rad-grams want to make rules for everything we write or say! Are you telling me that I should have to consult three different style guides before I write a Twitter? And according to my research, none of these rad-gram style guides even agree with each other, although I heard that they’re anti-transition words, and do you really want to be associated with that obvious bigotry? Rad-grams even say they’re against objectification, but how else will I say what I’m gnawing on, or who I’m sending threats harmless jokes to?

    P.Z., I liked it when you were writing about your past progressive values, but these present progressive values that you are promoting are beyond the pale, and even in the future will never be relating to skepticism or atheism in any positive way. Please stop writing about these petty topics and instead write about the important things which are as objectively important to everyone as they are to me.

    (In less sarcastic notes, I am very much pro-Oxford comma. The editor in me is screaming at all these people who are suggesting you add new words and phrases to do the job of a simple piece of punctuation.)

  33. frankb says

    Con: “Those at the ceremony were the commodore, the fleet captain, the donor of the cup, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Jones.”

    I am definitely pro Oxford Commas. This example of the con’s argument is just poorly worded. It is easy to fix. “Those at the ceremony were the commodore, the fleet captain, Mr. Jones, and the donor of the cup, Mr Smith.” At first I thought that Smith and Jones donated the cup, but then it should have said “donors”.

  34. meursalt says

    #48:

    I realise this debate was had a few days ago, but I wasn’t able to participate at the time. I’ll actually take up for the style guide in the case of punctuation within quotes, as I was always taught that this is the proper way, On the other hand, coming from a software development/IT background, I freely and gleefully break this rule whenever writing in a technical context, because a quote should be verbatim, dammit, case and punctuation included. As you can see, I exercise a bit of cognitive dissonance here; I’m good at that due to my religious upbringing.

  35. ChasCPeterson says

    This is just yet another example of the AP Style Guide being a load of crap.

    That’s…extreme. The entire point of a style manual is simply to provide consistency among disparate authors. Sometimes consistency means coming down on one side or another on a matter of disagreement or essentially arbitrary preference. If you are not writing for the AP, you can follow your own, far superior style at whim.

    It deliberately panders to the ignorant usages of the reader, rather than trying to lead by example.

    I know, can you believe it? Imagine! The Associated Press! Putting a premium on readability instead of doing…whatever you prefer. It’s unconscionable! Newspaper reporters and editors should be unchained, free to let their prose fly where it may, and fuck the readership!

    This doesn’t only apply to grammar, but also to definitions of words commonly misused by the public.

    examples, please?

  36. robro says

    As the examples indicate, the right thing to do depends on the groups and individuals in your list, where the emphasis lies, and ultimately what you mean. Any fixed rule (always this, always that) is just pedantry. I know quite a few editors (excellent professionals) and they could “discuss” the pros and cons of such a topic endlessly. Picking a rule book (CMS being the typical favorite) made their job just a little easier.

    But, that said, I generally just throw the damn things in anywhere that seems right to me, unless I’m writing for an editor. In that case, I tend to leave them out and let the editor decide. Editors rule.

    All those old languages…Latin, Greek, Hebrew…were so much easier to write: no punctuation.

    Frankly I’ve never understood is the semi-colon; it seems so unnecessary. May it go the way of the penny.

  37. jackiepaper says

    I haven’t done this in a while, but I think I remember how it goes.

    *removes earrings*
    *smears Vaseline on cheekbones*
    *kicks off heels*
    *acquires pool cue*

    Let’s do this.

  38. busterggi says

    Go ahead PZ and the rest of you Oxfordians.

    When you run out of commas because of your extravagance don’t come asking me for any of mine.

  39. Sili says

    I am definitely pro Oxford Commas. This example of the con’s argument is just poorly worded. It is easy to fix. “Those at the ceremony were the commodore, the fleet captain, Mr. Jones, and the donor of the cup, Mr Smith.” At first I thought that Smith and Jones donated the cup, but then it should have said “donors”.

    Le gasp! Rewording!

    You do realise that ‘argument’ cuts both ways, don’t you?

    Something about gravy, male and female geese.

  40. ChasCPeterson says

    every journalist I’ve spoken to or heard from on the subject of the AP Style Guide had similar low opinions of it.

    My strong suspicion is that every journalist would have similarly low opinions of any style manual those fascist editors might require.

    It makes me wonder who the hell actually writes and defends the thing.

    Hmmm, a real puzzler.
    If I had to guess? The editors at the Associated Press who have to hammer out a consistent and utilitarian style from the prose of hundreds and thousands of writers, each with personal opinions about the fucking serial comma.
    hey but wait…we’re on the Internet…we could just, y’know, look it up!
    yep.

  41. subbie says

    jackiepaper @ 74

    If so, it’s rather mellow drama. Where’s the fisticuffs? Where’s the ballyhoo? Where’s the mayhem? Frankly, I’m rather disappointed here, folks.

  42. Sili says

    IIRC, the Oxford rule only applies to a series of 3 or more. Canada’s flag is safe.

    Nicely inconsistent, that.

    Of course, this whole debacle is based on small people, who cannot abide variation. I’m sure they hate Willm Shakspere as well.

  43. chasbo says

    A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free Country, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed

  44. chigau (無味ない) says

    *puts on steel-toed loafers*
    *swings walking-stick*
    jackiepaper
    I got your back.

  45. meursalt says

    #67, ChasCPeterson

    examples, please?

    OK, that’s totally fair, and I was kind of expecting it. I can give a single big example which will also explain my strong feelings on the subject, since it has been used to vilify an entire subculture to which I belong: the words “hacker” and “hacking.”

    This is a smart crowd, so I doubt I need to explain the distinctions in different usages of those terms, and the existence of alternative terms which would be somewhat clearer. The AP style guide uses the terms indiscriminately, and consistently applies them to acts of network intrusion, thus effectively painting computer hobbyists as criminals.

    I also recognise that alternatives such as “cracker” are also problematic, since “cracker” is also ambiguous. It can mean “network intruder” or “one who circumvents software piracy protections.” Software crackers might take exception to being lumped in with network crackers. Prior to the DMCA, their actions were legal (and I still see them as ethical), since they circumvent copy protections for the pure intellectual challenge, and don’t typically distribute pirated software itself, only patches. If software piracy is unethical, in my opinion the ethical breach occurs when the patch is applied, or when one copies the software itself without having paid for it. If the person creating the “crack” patch has paid for their copy of the software, they should be able to do as they please with their copy, including patching it to circumvent restrictions imposed by the vendor. And since the patch is their own original work, they should be free to distribute it. Yes, this implies that I think many software licenses and the DMCA are overreaching. There is a larger debate to be had here on what restrictions are reasonable and should be legal in software licenses. This isn’t really the proper forum for it, so I’ve glossed over some details since it’s peripheral to my AP Style Guide hate.

    Hopefully I’ve made the reason for my opinion clear without opening a whole new can of worms ;).

  46. meursalt says

    #75, ChasCPeterson

    Hmmm, a real puzzler.
    If I had to guess? The editors at the Associated Press who have to hammer out a consistent and utilitarian style from the prose of hundreds and thousands of writers, each with personal opinions about the fucking serial comma.
    hey but wait…we’re on the Internet…we could just, y’know, look it up!

    Yes, I understand that the AP style guide is written by the AP editors. I was being a bit silly. My point was that there must me some vocal faction other than the AP editors that support the style guide, otherwise there would be more pressure to change it. I’ve never spoken to anyone from this faction (except you). Then again, I don’t work in the press.

    I was just expressing amusement. Maybe I could have worded it better.

  47. says

    I am dismayed, DISMAYED to see so many people using the Oxford comma instead of parallel sentence structures to declare grouping. Mine is a small group, but by god we enjoy being holdovers to you sentence radicals. I shall have to retire to the fainting couch with my copy of 18th century literature to soothe my poor sensibilities.

  48. tbp1 says

    @40: You beat me to it. I love Victor Borge.

    When I was in grad school I worked as the assistant to a semi-retired professor who had gone blind in his 60s. He never got very good at Braille (apparently most people who go blind later in life have difficulty with Braille), and most of the stuff he needed to read wasn’t available in Braille anyway, so I read lots of articles into his cassette recorder. I had to include the punctuation (although not in Victor Borge style) so that if he cited something he could get it right. It was very weird, and I never got really used to it.

  49. Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts says

    I’m anti-Oxford comma? I have never considered it a problem; I just supposed it was another stupid thing that American writers did.

  50. leftwingfox says

    I’m agnostic on the issue. (Hey, if I’m going to run through the pitbulls, why not strap a steak to my ass?)

    Grammar exists to serve legibility. If the Oxford comma makes the list easier to understand, it stays. If it becomes more difficult, it goes. I generally ignore it though.

    Being a somewhat sloppy writer and an absurd allergy to the “preview” button, I am likely to vacillate between the two uses in a single piece of writing without regard to consistency, which probably defeats the purpose.

  51. evilDoug says

    What a silly thing to get worked up over.
    Now if someone wants to organize a campaign to spell organize properly with a zed instead of an ess, also according to preferred practise of Ol’ Cattle-Crossing U., that is something I could get into.

    @tbp1 @ 88
    Amusing Braille story: One year, when I worked at the Uni, we suddenly found ourselves with several blind students in the department. Some had Braille computer terminals. I found a room that we were going to set up for the students to use, but it needed a bit of work – it had been used as a local depot for Comm Media & they had had a dart board on the wall. They weren’t very accurate. I took one of the blind students to “have a look” (his language) at the room. I mentioned the condition of the wall. He ran his hand over it and said “Oh! Braille graffiti.”

  52. says

    Funny thing is in the UK we call it the Harvard comma.

    I base all my decisions wrt grammar and writing style on capacity of different devices to eliminate ambiguity. (I am therefore happy to casually split infinitives and I couldn’t give a crap that a preposition is deemed to be not the proper thing to end a sentence with. These violations of convention make absolutely no difference to comprehensibility.)

    For this reason, I usually employ the Oxford / Harvard comma, but on the rare occasions where greater ambiguity is introduced I just switch to another style.

  53. Steve LaBonne says

    For this reason, I usually employ the Oxford / Harvard comma, but on the rare occasions where greater ambiguity is introduced I just switch to another style.

    No, no! This is a fight to the death! Common sense is not allowed!

  54. says

    I am not disappointed that my trolling has so far been eminently successful.

    However, can we have more schisms? People declaring that they’ll abandon science or atheism if their comma preferences aren’t put on a pedestal? The battles so far are exchanges of slaps, and I want to see more knives out.

  55. shouldbeworking says

    A few commenters may be on the right track. In order to get the “Oxford” comma into wider use, it should have its elitist, foreign name changed. How about the “freedom comma”?

  56. =8)-DX says

    As a translator I use as few commas as possible and the Oxford comma is one of the first to fall beside the road.

  57. meursalt says

    #97

    You knew this would end in tears! I mean, your position is totally correct and all, but aren’t you afraid of alienating the casual reader with your strong wording? Why start a witch hunt with your irresponsible messaging? Also, Nazis!!1

  58. says

    I didn’t think it made much of a difference, until I wrote the sentence “If I had shoved the case into my pocket before leaving work in the dark, which it would have been in early January, the case could easily have fallen out while I hung up my coat and disappeared between the rolls of wrapping paper without making a sound.” When I went back and re-read it, I realized it sounded as if I, and not my eyeglass case, had “disappeared between the rolls of wrapping paper without making a sound,” as improbable as that action might have been. I changed it to, “If I had shoved the case into my pocket before leaving work in the dark, which it would have been in early January, the case could easily have fallen out while I hung up my coat, and disappeared between the rolls of wrapping paper without making a sound,” even though the laws of physics, if nothing else, should have removed all ambiguity.

    Now, I need someone to set me straight on where the punctuation goes when you embed a quote in a sentence. Funny wiggly lines kept appearing when I used the comma after the quotation mark above, even though it seems to me that logically the quotation, including quotation marks, needed to be set apart from the following dependent clause.

    Maybe I just need to be restricted to writing in simple sentences.

  59. Louis says

    I should point out that I do use my Oxford commas to oppress women and minorities.

    Or if that doesn’t cause a big enough rift, I also use it to vilify men and white people.

    Louis

  60. kiki says

    Not really Oxford comma-related, but I’m a sub-editor, and a while ago I got a piece of copy which described a cafe as ‘a great place to come, shop and congregate’. I think it’s the closest thing to ‘eats, shoots and leaves’ (the original version of the joke, not the lame, cleaned-up one used in that stupid book) that I’ve come across.

  61. Steve LaBonne says

    If you take away my Harvard commas; I will use semicolons everywhere; EVERYWHERE! Bwahahaha!

  62. evilDoug says

    It really is that Meeners or Miners guy, or whatever his name is, that is the problem. Mano took this up earlier today and got nothing but polite discourse.

  63. glodson says

    I am going to find a way to look down on both sides of this silly debate, and chide everyone without taking a stance to show how mature and totally honest I am.

  64. Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts says

    The thing for me is that a comma after before a conjunction, a part from being redundant to me, is that it also appears to separate a parenthetical and a nonsensical one, at that. Which is a bit funny since you’d think that a list would be the first, most obvious interpretation but it isn’t.

    But, then, I’m a bit weird. I have serious problems with the placement of ellipses; they should clearly lead into the following text and not be appended, full stop-like, to the end of text, even when nothing follows …

    And what about the poor semi-colon? Surely it is treated far worse than the comma, which, if anything, is just overused.

  65. says

    Ah! I see what you’re after, Myers, you devil.

    I shall have to leave atheism unless you agree to my comma style. Seeing all this misused punctuation wounds me. I shall be forced to go back to worshiping myself, and I am a fickle deity (but easily appeased with a good mixed drink and hors d’oeuvres.)

  66. says

    As it happens, the other day I was having my novel looked over by someone who pointed out I was inconsistent with when I used this comma; sometimes I did and sometimes I didn’t.
    PFFT. Consistency. I just do what feels right!
    Grammar has no respect for feelings though so that’s usually incorrect.

  67. kiki says

    I am going to find a way to look down on both sides of this silly debate, and chide everyone without taking a stance to show how mature and totally honest I am.

    I agree with you I find the best way is to avoid punctuation altogether the whole debate is beneath me this way I look much more sensible

  68. Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts says

    If you take away my Harvard commas; I will use semicolons everywhere; EVERYWHERE! Bwahahaha!

    Case in point.

    You can keep the comma, just keep your right pinkie away from that semi-colon and your left away from that shift key!

  69. meursalt says

    @112

    If only we had some sort of dedicated punctuation to explicitly indicate a parenthetical…

    [ducking and running]

  70. R Johnston says

    Strongly pro-Oxford comma here. It should be used all the time, without exception. Reading lists is so much easier when the comma is used as a matter of course. Without the Oxford comma there is never a way to determine whether an “and” or “or” in a list is part of a compound term or denotes the end of the list until you have read past the “and” or “or.” The ambiguities produced by failure to use the Oxford comma are bad enough, but even when there is no ambiguity the failure to use the Oxford comma as a matter of course requires backtracking after every conjunction in order to determine whether it’s part of a compound term or it introduces the end of the list. When the Oxford comma is used as a matter of course then well constructed lists can simply be read from beginning to end.

    Lists with multiple compound terms are a nightmare to parse unless the Oxford comma is used regularly.

  71. Rip Steakface says

    I have never gave a damn about the Oxford comma.

    Sometimes, I use it, sometimes I don’t.

  72. Crip Dyke, MQ, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Thank you Coralline @19 – Vampire Weekend’s song is fabulous.

    As for

    Louis…

    I use the Oxford comma to counterattack my oppressors: the able-bodied, men, and straight folk.
    My counterattacks would be much less effective if I targeted them at the able-bodied, men and straight folk.

    Oxford Commas for Justice!!!!

    [or, if you prefer a more concise battle-cry, Spoooooon!]

  73. gussnarp says

    This is absurd. There is simply no good argument against the Oxford comma, except perhaps the damned English name. I mean, unless you don’t want to be clear and easy to understand. Yes, if obfuscation is your goal, feel free to eschew the Oxford comma.

  74. glodson says

    @ 115 We should as atheists and skeptics focus on real issues concerning goddlessness and skepticism and not fall into these fascists attempts to splinter us by detracting from our free speech by use of grammar Punctuation is nothing more than a minor consideration and if only the ProOxies would understand that and make amends with the Antis we could move forward as a group as no true skeptic would really need any of these restrictions I grow so weary of this fighting and if I had been struggling with my atheism now I would not join with a community so rife with infighting over such points even though one side seems to have facts and figures and logic while the other uses inane insults threats and sophomoric bullshit Of course I am not going to stick my neck out and chide that side because they use inane insults threats and sophomoric bullshit

  75. evilDoug says

    I can’t believe how all of you Americans just accept a comma rammed in by Mother England! That has to be matriarchal colonialism. Are there no men among you?

  76. jojo says

    I’m sorry, but without a post from Nerd asking for evidence, this cannot be a legitimate rift.

  77. meursalt says

    Dear Illitera,

    I realise your complete lack of reading and writing skills due to the failures of your local public educational system is a serious impediment on your ability to seek higher education and gainful employment. However, some of us have bigger problems. Would you believe that in Minnesota there is a professor, one Dr. P.Z. Myers, who is currently being victimised by people commenting on his blog without enough commas to suit him? They actually omit pre-conjunction commas in a series, the horror! Of course, this means nothing to you, but trust me when I say it’s bad. So, while I realise your situation is dire, we in the international community simply have bigger fish to fry.

    Yours,
    You Know Who

    [TL;DR: RW ruined grammar!]

  78. Eurasian magpie says

    This question, of the Oxford comma is obfuscation, anyway. It is, a cunning ploy, and, a slippery slope, designed to make some comma-control, acceptable, the first step up, the pernicious ladder, that leads to the, destruction of the right of, every red-blooded American, and honorary, American, to insert their commas wherever, it fucking, pleases us!!!111!!!!!

  79. evilDoug says

    You will take my, commas from my COLD, DEAD, FINGERTIPS libburals!!

    That won’t be hard! Clearly you have never had proper comma safety training. You’ll be lulled into a sense of false security by the soft round top, but soon find yourself ripped from stem to stern by the near-occult razor tip.
    If people had proper comma safety training, they would never use them inappropriately.

  80. says

    People declaring that they’ll abandon science or atheism if their comma preferences aren’t put on a pedestal?

    -Nah. Science and atheism are worth removing a few commas for.

  81. Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts says

    meursalt, you think you’re so clever. *rolls eyes, blows raspberry*

    Mhmm.
    _____

    gussnarp, when I went out last weekend I walked, ran and biked.

    That’s not obfuscating.
    _____

    I think that those who work with certain conventions of grammar their whole life find a way to use them without being confused by them. Problems really only arise when people who use different conventions begin to exchange letters with each other. Clearly, we should all stop writing.

  82. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Noooooooooooooooooo!!!!!! Back in the dark and distant past, when I worked as an editor at a physics magazine, the management was both clueless and utterly malevolent–and the higher you went, the more concentrated the evil became. Editors were underpaid, given little in the way of resources and had no say in how the magazine was run. What we did have was an ongoing debate over the fricking Oxford comma. Four years of debate over an issue that should have been decided by editorial policy. I actually walked out of meetings, telling my boss I had real work to do. Although I am a committed atheist, the Oxford comma is something I am firmly agnostic about.

  83. evilDoug says

    They actually omit pre-conjunction commas…

    Use of pre-conjunction devices leads to wonton fornication and immorality. Have you atheists no morals at all?

  84. meursalt says

    #130

    Sorry, I just thought it odd that no one had brought up elevators yet. I’m still reading current comments about them around the Net, so I figured EG and RW were still considered the root cause of all Deep Rifts ™. Was my callback too stale? I’m dealing with some hopefully minor medical issues and the mindless grammar humour is a welcome distraction.

  85. says

    To me, it’s all about representing speech. The comma represents a pause when the list is spoken. The fact of the matter is that in a list of more than two items, you will pause before the conjunction, and therefore there should be a terminal comma. In a list of two items, you won’t pause, so there shouldn’t be a comma.

    Also, the conjunction isn’t good enough as a semantic divider. The comma sticks out; it dips a bit below the baseline and draws your eye, and you know immediately that the things on either side of it are not grouped.

    But, you’re saying, the comma is not just for lists! Mixing clause-dividing commas in with list-dividing commas is bad! So my rule is default to commas for lists, but if you also need commas to distinguish clauses (and parentheses–or dashes–can’t work for whatever reason), then use semicolons for the list dividers and commas for the clause dividers.

  86. Rob says

    Damn you Myers and your DEEEEEP RIIIIFTS! I’m currently bagging up every cat, stoat and weasel in New Zealand to send to you. Why you namby pamby Americans have to suck up to a bunch of effete Oxford Dons is a mystery to an intensely male post-colonial. Change your views or I shall be forced to join the slymepit (not a vaculating hoggle trust me). I feel strongly about the consistent use of commas, colons, and indeed full stops. I will exercise your second amendment right on your behalf to defend my views (well I don’t have a second amendment right and you’re not using yours, so that seems fair, reasonable and appropriate).

    (Is that better)

  87. carlie says

    There is no shortage of commas! In fact, if people continue to be stingy and conserve their commas, hiding them away for a rainy day, the economy will crash even further and bring about a global recession. You owe it to the world to use the Oxford comma.

  88. Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts says

    meursalt, I was referring to #117. Keep it light.

    And it is all RW’s fault and it doesn’t even need stating anymore. The real reason the MRAs are assholes is because they keep reminding us of something we already know. Can’t they move past that?

  89. says

    The problem that gets me to be pro-oxford is the con-oxford examples all have other flaws.

    If you can’t resort the list (except the last item) and make it make sense, then it’s not the comma that’s making it make less sense. And that’s the flaw with the con-oxford position.

  90. Fred Salvador - Colonialist says

    Seal the fuel cap, check the isolator is disengaged and pull the ignition cord.

    Seal the fuel cap, check the isolator is disengaged, and pull the ignition cord.

    Both seem fine to me. People get annoyed by the stupidest shit.

  91. meursalt says

    Just to add something more substantial and relevant to the OP, I’d like to say that the several pro-Oxford arguments involving ambiguity, as well as johnradke’s post just now, nicely sum up my reasons for being pro-OC. I really did have a lot of fun with this rule as a kid, and it was only at Pharyngula on earlier posts that I learned that UK-liens don’t generally agree with the rule, so this topic was of particular interest to me.

    @johnradke, Is your usage of the semicolon as a list separator well-supported? I’ve seen it a lot and always wondered; I think I may have even read it in a style guide, but I’ve always been hung up because it conflicts with the simplistic rules for semicolon use given in primary and secondary level textbooks. I’m going to consult Strunk and White in a moment, but I’d love to hear opinions here on the subject.

  92. athyco says

    The question of the Oxford comma was moot in my household until I read a list of grocery items over the phone.

    When they arrived, I received eggs, milk, rice, macaroni and cheese. For the want of a comma, the blue box of crap Kraft was delivered.

    Are you willing to risk such consequences?

  93. meursalt says

    @Thomathy, thank you. I just made a specialist appointment, so I’m confident I’ll soon get a proper diagnosis and treatment.

    At any rate, the free market should ultimately optimize for how many commas should be used.

  94. Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts says

    Strunk and White

    Ew, barf. I can’t think of a more useless collection of American-centric grammar. Have you seen how they render dialogue? It’s an affront to light sensing organs.
    _____
    If only everyone could just write like most Canadians: with barely a thought for any particular style, just grasping at whatever convention comes to mind first.

    It’s a wonder literate Canadians (there are a few, at least) manage any consistency at all, especially considering the outrageous stuff coming up from the sump.

  95. Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts says

    macaroni and cheese

    Well, that’s the problem. What you wanted is called Kraft Dinner. There isn’t a comma in existence that could have helped you there.

  96. Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts says

    Or, rather, what you didn’t want. Reading comprehension fail.

    Wherever is Kraft Dinner called macaroni and cheese, I wonder …

  97. athyco says

    Wherever is Kraft Dinner called macaroni and cheese, I wonder …

    I can’t come up with a funny answer.

  98. Peter B says

    Actually, I couldn’t care less about how you want to do commas, but I WILL SMASH ALL YOUR BLOODY FACES IF YOU KEEP MISUSING APOSTROPHES!!!!

    e.g.

    **YES** You’re all dickheads!

    **NOT** Your all dickheads!

    Got it?

    Next lesson: It’s versus Its, and you’d better study hard, as I will really be kicking some arse on this one!!!

  99. Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts says

    I couldn’t care less

    I could care less and you’d be surprised at how little I could care. It’s much less than you, it’s in the negative.

  100. carlie says

    When they arrived, I received eggs, milk, rice, macaroni and cheese. For the want of a comma, the blue box of crap Kraft was delivered.

    Are you willing to risk such consequences?

    Best. Example. Ever.

  101. says

    The question of the Oxford comma was moot in my household until I read a list of grocery items over the phone.

    When they arrived, I received eggs, milk, rice, macaroni and cheese. For the want of a comma, the blue box of crap Kraft was delivered.

    Are you willing to risk such consequences?

    The one organized thing I do in my otherwise disorganized life is to group items in my grocery list according to where they are found in the store. A list that read “eggs, milk, cheese, rice and macaroni” would not have caused confusion, unless you slurred the last three words and wound up with Rice-a-Roni. I don’t know if that would have been better or worse.

    Oh, and kiki @109, thank you.

  102. Sili says

    The question of the Oxford comma was moot in my household until I read a list of grocery items over the phone.

    When they arrived, I received eggs, milk, rice, macaroni and cheese. For the want of a comma, the blue box of crap Kraft was delivered.

    Are you willing to risk such consequences?

    You speak commas?!

  103. michael scottmonje jr says

    At my high school (just north of Grand Rapids, MI), we were not taught it was the Oxford comma. We were just taught that it was the “right” use of the comma.

    TEACH THE CONTROVERSY

    MAH VIEWPOINTZ!

    THE OXFORD COMMA IS ONLY A THEORY

  104. shouldbeworking says

    I asked an English literature teacher about the Oxford comma. His reply was that there are two ways to go, the American way and the right way (with the comma).

  105. Louis says

    Glodson, #111,

    No no no no. That only works in fake debates or manufactured controversies. This is a REAL controversy, you can actually takes sides and make an argument. Unlike other things I could mention…

    Louis

  106. anuran says

    Here is why we need the Oxford Comma:

    “I brought the strippers, Rush Limbaugh, and Keith Richards”

    is NOT the same as

    “I brought the strippers, Rush Limbaugh and Keith Richards”

  107. Rich Woods says

    @aggressivePerfector #95:

    Funny thing is in the UK we call it the Harvard comma.

    Speak for yourself, sunshine. I’ve never heard it called anything other than the Oxford comma.

    BTW, I’m anti-OC. Some of the examples people have given, whether pro- or anti-, are clearly being interpreted as good or bad based just upon the upbringing and/or experience of the author — I read them the other way. But it is much more amusing to see the examples which aren’t lists but simply a complex sentence containing a number of subordinate clauses.

  108. Rich Woods says

    @anuran #161:

    Now try:

    “I brought the stripper, Rush Limbaugh, and Keith Richards.”

    “I brought the stripper, Rush Limbaugh and Keith Richards.”

    It’s always a matter of context, and you can always rewrite a sentence if there is going to be any doubt. Good writers recognise that. Hopefully good editors do too…

  109. Rich Woods says

    Oops, meant to finish with:

    “I brought Rush Limbaugh, Keith Richards[,] and the stripper[s].”

  110. ravenred says

    I’m anti, and yes that muscle fibre near my eye twitches whenever I see someone use it, but I find it difficult to keep up the passionate energy many appear to have in regards to this. For me, it’s a matter of what I’m used to, rather than being a cool, rational decision. It’s why you barrack for your sporting team rather than which politician you vote for or which car you buy.

    PZ has foisted a goddamn theological debate on us, and we rose to his bait like the FTB Sheople, we are.

    “I brought the strippers, Rush Limbaugh, and Keith Richards”

    is NOT the same as

    “I brought the strippers, Rush Limbaugh and Keith Richards”

    And what’s the matter with

    “I brought Rush Limbaugh, Keith Richards and the strippers”?

  111. ravenred says

    Oh, and to quote Lynn Truss on the subject: “There are people who embrace the Oxford comma and people who don’t and I’ll just say this: never get between these people when drink has been taken.”

  112. says

    I am a big fan of the Oxford Comma.

    And just to be a troll – TWO spaces after a period before you start the next sentence. Not one… TWO.

    So there.

  113. Lofty says

    ,,, ,,,,, ,,, ,,,,, ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, ,,, ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
    Thanks.

  114. cm's changeable moniker says

    Well, Sili hinted it, but I’ll link it: The New Yorker’s noöne.

    Interestingly, the very next item on that blog contains this:

    Bernadeta Litwin, dragging along a large duffle on wheels and two young boys

    Perhaps the OC is responsible for comma-shortage elsewhere?

  115. tfkreference says

    Typical creationists anti-commapropentists. The rely on the bible AP Style Guide as the ultimate authority, present straw men (e.g., why are there still monkeys? “The Canadian flag is red, and white”), and ad hominens (e.g., “You’re just one of PZ’s acolytes” “The only people who can get confused by the lack of a comma, are those who’ve been indoctrinated into the cult”).

  116. Suido says

    I use it, leave it out, or reword the sentence to eliminate any ambiguity, depending on context.

    This morning I made ham, cheese and pickle sandwiches.

    This morning I made ham, cheese, and pickle sandwiches.

    Both of the above are true, but ambiguous.

    This morning I made sandwiches containing ham, cheese and pickles.

  117. Masquirina says

    Everyone who uses double spaces between every word and then sends me their portion of a group paper can eat a mountain of aspic with their severed hands suspended in the middle.

  118. carlie says

    I have never, ever heard it called a “harvard comma”. That’s stupid.

    It’s a serial comma, people.

  119. David Marjanović says

    In German, the Oxford comma is never used (well, except to mark a very strong separation between the last two items in a list, e. g. when the last one is a surprise), so I’m used to reading texts that lack it and don’t much notice when it’s not there. However, I think it’s generally a good idea; when I write in English, I use it often.

    Two spaces between sentences seem never to have been used outside of English. That’s probably because they’re a silly idea.

    What really enrages me is the practice, appallingly widespread in English while unknown elsewhere, to insert a comma into phrases like “the dinosaur Pachycephalosaurus wyomingensis“. Putting a comma in there means that P. wyomingensis is the dinosaur. That’s exactly what you need when you’ve been talking about a single dinosaur (species) before, but otherwise it’s just AAAAARRRRRGH.

    Frankly[,] I’ve never understood is the semi[...]colon; it seems so unnecessary.

    Well, how would you rewrite that sentence to avoid it? Making two sentences out of it would change the pronunciation and pretty much sever the connection between the two parts; using a dash would likewise change the pronunciation (in a different direction) and create suspense that may not be appropriate.

    Grammar exists to serve legibility.

    That’s not grammar; it’s orthography. Grammar is how a language works, not its writing system.

    Use of pre-conjunction devices leads to wonton [sic] fornication and immorality.

    …mmm… wonton… *Homeric drool*

    The comma represents a pause when the list is spoken.

    Usually it also represents a rise in the pitch of the reader’s voice. The semicolon, in contrast, represents that the pitch goes down.

    Is your usage of the semicolon as a list separator well-supported? I’ve seen it a lot and always wondered; I think I may have even read it in a style guide, but I’ve always been hung up because it conflicts with the simplistic rules for semicolon use given in primary and secondary level textbooks.

    Well, when you have a list where A, which is B; C, which is, as requires a lot more explanation, D; E, which is, although this really should be obvious to anyone (except the most ignorant), usually F, G, and also sometimes H; and finally I, which is commonly J – then semicola are your only hope.

    I’m going to consult Strunk and White in a moment

    Linguists call it “the thrice-accursed Strunk’n’White”. Jis sayin.

    I received eggs, milk, rice, macaroni and cheese.

    Well, no: you received eggs, milk, rice – and macaroni and cheese.

    **NOT** Your all dickheads!

    ALL YOUR DICKHEADS ARE BELONG
    TO US.

  120. erikthebassist says

    Peter B @151 and David Marjanović at 184

    ummm, I know this is a just for fun thread but the use of gendered insults is really discouraged around here.

    I’ll give peter the benefit of the doubt for maybe being newish? David you know better. X-(

  121. What a Maroon, el papa ateo says

    Can’t we all just get along? Can’t we just agree that despite our differences, something deeper unites us? Can’t we all just rejoice in our love of the semi-colon?

    Yes, that’s right, I’m proud to be an accommadationist.

  122. carlie says

    In German, the Oxford comma is never used (well, except to mark a very strong separation between the last two items in a list, e. g. when the last one is a surprise)

    Pfft. In German you can’t even be arsed to put spaces between words, from what I can tell. Just shove ‘em all together and make a new one.

    ;)

  123. cm's changeable moniker says

    … @#186, I would have added, had I hit “Preview” (as I intended) as opposed to “Submit …”

  124. says

    And just to be a troll – TWO spaces after a period before you start the next sentence. Not one… TWO.

    So there.

    I used to use two spaces, but it makes for funny formatting on Blogger.

  125. ckitching says

    The Oxford comma does not bother me, but the practice of relocating punctuation within quotation marks that were not present in the original quote bothers me to no end. Digital typesetting has made the letterpress printing obsolete, and there’s no reason to follow ridiculous rules that only made sense due to the limitations of letterpress typesetting.

  126. RFW says

    Is there a language with two or more versions of the simple and-conjunction? Such a language might, for example, would allow you to say “For lunch I ate peanut butter <inner conjunction> jelly sandwiches, pickled squid innards, <list-final conjunction> curried octopus tentacles.”

    Having a shallow familiarity with the many oddities to be found in various languages, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to hear of a language with a whole spectrum of and-conjunctions.

    PS: There must be a technical term for “and”. Anybody know it? My brain can’t come up with one, though I have a sneaking suspicion I’ll wake up at 3 am and realize what the bon mot is.

  127. allencdexter says

    I was taught in elementary school, over 60 years ago, that using a comma before and in a series was supoerfluous and incorrect. They stand for basically the same thing.

  128. evilDoug says

    Use of pre-conjunction devices leads to wonton [sic] fornication and immorality.

    …mmm… wonton… *Homeric drool*

    Mock my spelling will you!? This means wor!

  129. tfkreference says

    Tony: That recalls the probably apocryphal dedication, “To my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”

    I was taught in elementary school, over 60 years ago, that using a comma before and in a series was supoerfluous and incorrect.

    And in the intervening six decades, many writers have decided that respecting their readers by writing clear sentences is more important than avoiding imaginary redundancy.

  130. duphrane says

    I use the Oxford comma all the time. I have never encountered a case in actual print where its inclusion caused ambiguity, but I have seen its omission cause ambiguity. I started writing a weekly op-ed piece for my school paper. Try as I might, I cannot convince the editors to leave my commas in, so I simply leave it in my submitted draft and make them take it out. One of these days they will leave it in, and I can zoom in and make a new desktop background.

  131. randay says

    Pro comma. I will use a variation of an example given on the page, “At the ceremony were the commodore, the fleet captain, Mr. and Mrs.Smith, and the donor of the cup.”

    Sometimes you want to associate two things with “and” earlier in the list so the Oxford comma is needed

    Or if you wrote, “Mr. Smith, Mrs. Jones, the donor of the cup, the commodore, and the captain of the fleet..” Without the comma, “the commodore and the captain of the fleet.” could be the same person.

  132. hohnjamilton says

    Pro: “This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.

    This is a “manufactured” Pro; the problem disappears if you change the order(…to Ayn Rand, my parents and God.) or add another term(to my children, my parents, Ayn Rand and God.).

  133. andyo says

    Hey, how about we all switch to Spanish? There are clear rules here that make sense. Also, pronunciation (if you read it, you can pronounce it correctly) and spelling. We even have more letters!

    Don’t go French though, that’s just going overboard.

  134. meursalt says

    @David Marjanović

    Well, when you have a list where A, which is B; C, which is, as requires a lot more explanation, D; E, which is, although this really should be obvious to anyone (except the most ignorant), usually F, G, and also sometimes H; and finally I, which is commonly J – then semicola are your only hope.

    Well said. I’m trying to get over my fear of atypical (non-conjunctive?) semicolon usage.

    Linguists call it “the thrice-accursed Strunk’n’White”. Jis sayin.

    Says you! I call it Strunk’n’Right! It’s the only S&W I’ve felt the need to keep near my bed most of my life. Its only shortcoming is that it needs to be longer, with more rules to follow, in order to satisfy my inner right-wing authoritarian. Can you believe it didn’t give me any direction on the series semicolon issue?

  135. says

    If we’re gonna talk about style stuff then I’m gonna say that I strongly dislike when people don’t end their sentence with a point, interrogation point or exclamation point but instead end them with a closing parenthesis, like comment 113.

    I don’t mind it so much when it is like comment 17 because a whole sentence is in parenthesis so why not put the dot with the rest of them? But when you have a sentence with part of it in parenthesis why put the dot in parenthesis too? Now your sentence does not have an end marker.

  136. ged says

    Nice social experiment, PZ. I’m surprised nobody got it yet. It’s a False dichotomy.

    On a related note… In my experience, the English language does not easily accept the concept of grammar rules being applied to it. Once I had studied it for a few years [as a foreign language], I finally realized what the English rules of grammar were for: Otherwise, you wouldn’t have any place to hang the exceptions on! You don’t really need to care about the rules themselves, as long as you know the exceptions well.

  137. greg1466 says

    I suppose that I’m agnostic when it comes to the Oxford comma. That is to say, both ways are correct and incorrect. As the examples in the article clearly demonstrate, context is everything.

  138. says

    @mersault

    Ugh, S&W. I mean, they have mostly good style ideas, but far too many people treat as an authoritative textbook rather than just a couple of guys’ opinions. Their opinions at least have some reasoning behind them, but they’re opinions nonetheless, and not ones with which everyone agrees.

    Here’s one linguist’s takedown of S&W as authoritative: http://chronicle.com/article/50-Years-of-Stupid-Grammar/25497

    Irregardlessly (*shit-eating grin*), my use of semicolons is terribly rare and I couldn’t possibly tell you where I picked it up, but I’m sure I’ve seen it a handful of times before. Honestly I’d avoid doing it, really, by using parentheses or dashes (as I said). Or by rewriting it, perhaps listing the items in one sentence and then doing the describing of them in subsequent sentences, or perhaps with an indented bulleted or numbered list. But if I’m feeling lazy or just sort of bored, I might deploy the semicolons without worrying that they’ll be misunderstood.

  139. crayzz says

    Pro: “This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.

    This is a “manufactured” Pro; the problem disappears if you change the order(…to Ayn Rand, my parents and God.) or add another term(to my children, my parents, Ayn Rand and God.).

    That’s kinda the point though. The oxford comma works no matter what. Otherwise you have to shift around your sentence structure. The oxford comma is more robust that way.

  140. leonpeyre says

    The whole argument is silly and pointless. Only lazy or bad writers need concern themselves about this question.

    Judging by what I’ve seen of people’s posts on the Internet in general, that would make this discussion relevant to 90% of Internet users.

    Pro-Oxford comma. It reduces ambiguity in the language.