Dirty, sexy, grammar – the Oxford comma

by Julie Frayn on March 7, 2012 in  Dirty, Sexy, Grammar

It gets its name from the Oxford University Press, so how could this little cousin of the goddess apostrophe  be anything but stuffy, boring, and buttoned up? Uh, hello?? It’s a university! In merry old England, no less! Knowledge, old buildings, learning, and British accents. Totally sexy.

Lots of things named Oxford are sexy. How about the Oxford Dictionary? That baby screams sexy because it’s full of my favorite thing – words! Book, write, stiletto, strawberry, macerate, serendipitous, wine, chocolate – mmmm, so sexy.

There’s even an Oxford shoe. Now that is decidedly sexy. They are like the anti-Hush Puppy, all top stitched and structured and in many cases, shiny. And their heels make that vibrant and sharp click click click against a hard floor when the wearer (who, by virtue of their great taste in shoes, must also be sexy) strides with confidence and pride. Oh yes, yes, yes! Sexy.

To top all that off, this particular comma, like its apostrophe cousin, has sparked controversy among grammarians and non-grammarians alike. What prompted the firestorm? Okay, maybe not a storm. Maybe a campfire. A backyard cookout. The flick of a thousand Bics.

According to the Oxford dictionary (and they ought to know), an Oxford comma is “an optional comma before the word ‘and’ at the end of a list.” The debate stems from the optional part. Many want to ban the Oxford comma as unnecessary and useless. Pish posh, I say! Never was there such a useful and wonderful little sweep of the pen. The Oxford comma brings clarity where needed, prevents ambiguity where its absence could render a sentence misunderstood.

Consider this:

At the reading of my rich uncle’s will, the lawyer said his entire estate was to be split equally between Julie, Joe and Susie. Woohoo! I get half! Good thing they didn’t put that Oxford comma after Joe, or I’d only get a third.

Rush Limbaugh introduced me to two of his ex-wives, Kirk Cameron and Stephen Baldwin. Gee, I’d heard that they didn’t support that kind of thing. Oh, wait.  I missed a little punctuation before ‘and.’  Drop that Oxford comma in there and voila, they’re back to their backwards selves.

So long live the Oxford comma. And for the final word on this sexy beast – Vampire Weekend recorded a song about it (well, not “about” it, but named for it), so it must be sexy! With lyrics like “who gives a f@(k about an Oxford comma?” they clearly don’t share my support of the little darling, but still – sexy, no?


{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Mitch March 8, 2012 at 8:35 am

At first, I was going to disagree with your support of the Oxford comma (Carson and I had a discussion about this the other day), but then I read the Rush Limbaugh sentence and changed my mind!

Nice shout out too for one of Luke’s favourite bands! At least I think it is what was on his t-shirt that time we all went out for dinner!


Julie March 8, 2012 at 12:25 pm

I believe the band on his t-shirt that night was Three Inches of Blood. A very different sound: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Il84l6zg5o Maybe you remembered the blood part :). But Charlie (and me, and maybe even Brynn) love Vampire Weekend!

Karen Rought March 8, 2012 at 8:54 pm

LOVE this. I’m a huge supporter of the Oxford comma. I get twitchy fingers when I read a passage that doesn’t have it. Here’s my favorite example of why we should use it: http://www.thenation.com/sites/default/files/user/194836/OxfordComma.jpeg (I should say second favorite, because your Rush Limbaugh example was hilarious.)


Julie March 8, 2012 at 9:08 pm

Oh my, I may never look at toast and OJ quite the same again! Thought of using the eats shoots and leaves example but maybe that one is overdone a bit. Rush and friends though, well, they needed a little comeuppance… :)

Kelly O'Sullivan (HILWD) March 8, 2012 at 9:00 pm

New reader, old fan of the oxford comma, and an admitted over-user of commas in general.


Julie March 8, 2012 at 9:09 pm

I have been accused of over-using the lovely comma too. I try to restrain myself, but sometimes it’s just not possible!

Casey Kay March 8, 2012 at 10:09 pm

I am in complete agreement with you. It never seemed right when they started telling us in school that the last comma wasn’t necessary. Just feels like something is missing then.


Julie March 8, 2012 at 11:01 pm

This comma stuff wasn’t even questioned when I was in school. Maybe that’s why I cling to it?

Dog, old. Tricks, new. Teach? Can’t… ~Yoda

Sean P. Farley March 9, 2012 at 8:09 am

Holy crap! Julie, I’m left laughing. It honestly took me a minute to get that last one, with Rush, Kirk, and Stephen (wow, maybe I am a proponent of that comma, or a good grammarian, because I entered that comma before ‘and’ without realizing I’d done it). I had no idea such a thing existed, to be honest. Where do you find these things?!? :) I especially love the little slam against those three – sexy word alert – imbeciles. :)


Julie March 9, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Love the word imbecile. But you’re too kind. To those three. 😀

I hate to admit it, but I surf the net for grammar. It’s like porn to me, but without the shame. Well there, I don’t hate to admit it.

Carolyn March 11, 2012 at 4:50 pm

Loved this Julie! I can’t put my finger on when or who pushed the non use of the oxford comma, only that I have, up until reading this post, removed said oxford comma whenever I edit my decidedly non-grammarian writings. I thought it was in school that we were pushed towards the non use, but you say no? Maybe it was Mom. :)


Julie March 12, 2012 at 12:37 pm

I don’t remember Mom and the comma – just spelling corrections, “Ain’t ain’t in the dictionary,” and “just those. ‘Those one’s’ is redundant” – among other Mom-grammar gems that formed my obsession with this stuff :D.

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