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Oxford comma? Are you for or against?

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This came to my attention because of a recent news story about a lawsuit in which one sentence of a contract left out the Oxford comma--and it was the deciding factor in the judgment. (I personally know of a similar case in the writing world.)

So, to refresh your memory, here is a sentence with the Oxford comma:

He bought eggs, fruit, and potatoes.

Same sentence without:

He bought eggs, fruit and potatoes.

The Oxford comma separates the last two items in a list when those items are joined by "and." I was taught to ALWAYS put the Oxford comma in. But about a decade ago, I noticed that publisher's editors were deleting it--so I stopped using it. (Gotta go with the flow.) I have to admit that it still annoys me to have to take it out.

So my question is:  What do you guys do? Could you also say whether you're under or over 40? Thanks.

P.S. Oh, and by the way, here's the news story if you're interested:

http://www.newsy.com/stories/grammar-matters-oxford-comma-costs-oakhurst-dairy-millions/
#1 - March 18, 2017, 10:53 AM
« Last Edit: March 18, 2017, 10:55 AM by Betsy »
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The Chicago Manual of Style[/i] still calls for using the Oxford comma, and I think most of the publishing industry follows Chicago.

Even the AP Stylebook (basically, newspaper style) calls for using the comma when it's necessary to clarify, as in, “I’d like to thank my parents, Mother Teresa and the Pope” (example courtesy of a commenter on The Passive Voice http://www.thepassivevoice.com/ which also had a link to this story a couple of days ago, although I suspect this particular quote has been around the block a few times).

#2 - March 18, 2017, 11:22 AM
« Last Edit: March 18, 2017, 11:24 AM by AnneB »

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I've gone back and forth on this. Currently, I'm using it again. (Age: I remember the Beatles.)

I think that the copy editor will follow house style, no matter what the writer does.
#3 - March 18, 2017, 11:26 AM
« Last Edit: March 18, 2017, 11:30 AM by Barbara Etlin »
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I am totally in favor of keeping the Oxford comma, and this isn't because I'm fussy or a language purist. I think it is necessary for clarity. It annoys me no end to see it omitted, but I have tried to go with the flow, too - against my better judgment. Maybe this lawsuit will draw attention to its usefulness.
#4 - March 18, 2017, 11:29 AM

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I know. It annoys me too (to take it out). All I can tell you is--some of my younger editors are taking it out.
#5 - March 18, 2017, 11:35 AM
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I am for, for, and for the Oxford comma (though it was called the serial comma when I was a young 'un). I am (cough) over forty.

 :hijacked The thing I've noticed recently is copy editors removing hyphens and smashing words together. I'm an historian, so prerevolutionary really gets me--it's a word I've read thousands of times, and it doesn't look right (or read easily) anymore. When my CE took it out of this year's bk, I emailed the head of a university's Center for Eighteenth-Century Studies. (She recently wrote a book on revolutionary-era France, so I figured she'd have run into the issue.)

She replied that hyphen removal was a huge irritation to her, and that, as I suspected, prerevolutionary was a particular annoyance. She said her CE had removed all her hyphens, and she had put them all back in, but the CE had removed them all again. She told me that we aren't going to win.

So I left my CE a margin note saying that I would accede to her wishes, but she should know she has incurred the wrath of the Center for Eighteenth-Century Studies.  :nanana
#6 - March 18, 2017, 11:56 AM
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Heh. I just noticed that Chicago has weighed in on the comma court case!

https://twitter.com/ChicagoManual/status/842454296750919688?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Etweet

FWIW, I just looked up the pre- and post-thing on the Chicago website: a summary table seem to hyphenate if the prefix comes before a proper noun but not if it precedes a common noun (preregistration but pre-Raphaelite, postwar but post-WWII). I'll try to upload the table, which is a pdf...

Yay! The upload worked!
#7 - March 18, 2017, 12:58 PM
« Last Edit: March 18, 2017, 01:18 PM by AnneB »

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It's nails on the chalkboard (yes, I'm over forty) to see sentences without the Oxford comma. Seriously, reading a sentence without that final comma is like hearing music with an unresolved chord, so it creates a break in my pace every time. Grrrrr.

Looks like I'm going to have to get used to this practice, though, as my thirteen and ten year-olds are being taught in public school to leave it out.

 :faint

Edited to clarify I'm FOR the Oxford comma!
#8 - March 18, 2017, 01:46 PM
« Last Edit: March 19, 2017, 06:46 AM by carrots »

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I am absolutely FOR the Oxford comma. In too many cases, leaving it out changes or obfuscates meaning.

I know plenty of under-40s who are in favor. But a good CE is going to follow whatever Chicago or the style book in use says to do, regardless of her/his opinion for or against.

I would fight only instances where meaning was clearly affected and let the rest slide. If that drives some CE crazy because of inconsistency, I can sooner live with that than with some equivalent of "I'd like to thank my parents, Mother Teresa and the Pope" in MY book.  :kiss :skull

#9 - March 18, 2017, 02:15 PM
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For the Oxford comma for all the reasons stated above. And I'm over 40.
#10 - March 18, 2017, 02:18 PM
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I prefer the Oxford comma. I've over 40 -- but I suspect, in this case, I'd be for it even if I were under 40. The mathematician in me likes clarity.
#11 - March 18, 2017, 02:44 PM

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I'm another big fan of the Oxford comma. :hairdude
#12 - March 18, 2017, 02:53 PM
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I prefer the Oxford comma, because it can be confusing.

I love this example, which was in a story about a documentary about Merle Haggard.:
"Among those interviewed were his two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall".

http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2730

Having said that, when I did business writing, we did not use the serial comma.
#13 - March 18, 2017, 03:10 PM

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For.
#14 - March 18, 2017, 04:09 PM
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Over 40, but its use, so we were taught, was determined by intention of the sentence, not a "it's one way or the other."
#15 - March 18, 2017, 04:18 PM
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Unless intended inferences would be impossible and if we are not straightjacketed by the rules of grammar, I'm in favor or allowing the serial comma to be used or not, as the writer chooses. Same for allowing the spelling to be "knife" or "nife" or "nyfe." Usually the meaning of such as nife would be clear from context.

Is there any confusion with the dog chased its tail or it's tail? If not, why brand it's as rong?

Let time and usage, not authorities, be the deciders of what grammar naturally lives or dies in expressing our thots. I suspect that, eventually, those silent k's and others would disappear, and spellings would become, as you pleez to rite, more fonetic or fonetik.
#16 - March 18, 2017, 07:22 PM
« Last Edit: March 18, 2017, 07:36 PM by Spence »

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I'm pleasantly surprised. It's pretty unanimous around here. (That's a new one on my, Arona. Can you say more?)
#17 - March 18, 2017, 10:04 PM
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I love this example, which was in a story about a documentary about Merle Haggard.:
"Among those interviewed were his two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall".

 

 :haha

#18 - March 19, 2017, 06:48 AM

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Seems like mostly over-40s are commenting here. I'm under 40 and for the Oxford comma.

Spence, your post gave me a chuckle. But for what it's worth, I don't think a switch to phonetic spelling would be as simple as you make it sound. Phonetic spelling would make it more difficult, sometimes impossible, to read the writing of people from different regions and cultural groups. This would either hamper communication between English-speaking cultures or lead to a choice of one region's pronunciation as a standard. History shows that in these situations, dominant groups get favored, and everyone else ends up at more of a disadvantage than ever. And even if that problem got avoided somehow, we'd soon have a new generation of kids who couldn't read existing published books. Maybe spelling-reformed e-book reprints could minimize this part of the problem, but it still gives me the willies to imagine a teenager in twenty years picking up a hard copy of Harry Potter and finding it as opaque as Shakespeare.

Anyway, sorry for the post hijack. Oxford commas, hooray!
#19 - March 19, 2017, 07:01 AM
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Betsy, the Merle Haggard example might serve the purpose.

The sentence would be less confusing if written: Among those interviewed were Kris Kristofferson, Robert Duvall, and Haggard's two ex-wives...or some other such way. That said, the intention of the original sentence was to specify three distinct people, and without a comma after Kristofferson, it reads as though his ex-wives were Kristofferson and Duvall.

At my last job, the early-thirty-something PR person was writing a style guide for the organization. I took exception to always excluding the Oxford comma, which she'd written we were not to ever use. My argument against that choice was how a sentence can read without being able to use it if need be--especially from a PR viewpoint. She said that was the current style, it wasn't necessary, end of story.

The link the original OP posted to the multi-million dollar lawsuit because of a little comma is good enough for me that it needs to stay part of writing and we need to understand when to use it. And, in that lawsuit, if we no longer recognized the Oxford (as part of the natural evolution of language and writing), where would that lawsuit stand?
#20 - March 19, 2017, 07:15 AM
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I'm in favor of the Oxford comma. It's like using the turn signal in my car -- I don't even have to think about it and it irks me when others don't use it. I'm under 40, but not by much.  :nocomment
#21 - March 19, 2017, 07:25 AM
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There is no confusion in the Haggard example with or without the Oxford comma. But even if the names Kristofferson and Duval were replaced by women's names, there is still no confusion because we are told two ex-wives.

When I say no confusion, I mean that the reader has inferred correctly, given the sentence, not necessarily knowing the reality. But say that the named women were not the ex-wives. In that case, the writer has implied wrongly and should put ex-wives as the last serial item, as Arona advised.

At 70, I've learned to be more tolerant of others' writing and driving affronts. It was usually only me whom they ate at, while the perpetrators continued on their merry way across the page or down the road, oblivious to my feelings.
#22 - March 19, 2017, 07:39 AM
« Last Edit: March 19, 2017, 08:36 AM by Spence »

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I'm for the serial comma, but in publishing, opinion doesn't matter. The style book matters.

It's not the CE saying this or that. It's the CE following the style book, which is her job. A PR person is going to follow AP because most newspapers follow AP, and her job is to get her stories in print as seamlessly as possible.

And when did people start calling serial commas an Oxford comma? It seems to be less than 10 years old in ubiquitous usage, and I'd guess it was picked up by supporters to give it the Oxbridge imprimatur. It's intended to bias the discuss.
#23 - March 19, 2017, 08:23 AM
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Totally in favor of the Oxford comma (which I've also always referred to as a serial comma). For some reason, I thought the "rule" was that serial commas should be used in nonfiction but not in fiction. Not a clue where that "rule" came from. Maybe I made it up!   :whistle
#24 - March 19, 2017, 08:48 AM
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It always bothers me to see no comma. And if you read it out loud, you automatically put a comma there anyway.

I'm over forty and have read many, many sentences out loud.  :taunt
#25 - March 19, 2017, 08:58 AM

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Interesting how many of us favor the Oxford/serial comma and are in conflict with style manuals. In matters of science, I've learned, as a non-scientist, that whatever objections I can think of to a piece of scientific writing have already been considered. I'm not likely to hear, "Gee, we never thought of that. Shucks, back to the drawing board for us."

Could the same be said of writers of style manuals?
#26 - March 19, 2017, 09:14 AM

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I'm over 40 and in favor. But I've been in favor of the comma all my life.
#27 - March 19, 2017, 09:29 AM
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I grew up with the Oxford comma--I am for it!  :running :love5 :stars3 :running
#28 - March 19, 2017, 09:39 AM

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The story so far...

The over-40s are almost unanimously in favor of the Oxford comma with one or two caveats.

But can we hear from some of you younger folks? What have you guys been taught in school? Or experienced?
#29 - March 19, 2017, 11:08 AM
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I love the Oxford comma and don't understand at all why people decided it wasn't necessary. Can anyone explain WHY it started being removed? It is one simple keystroke! (I am under 40.)
#30 - March 19, 2017, 12:18 PM
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