Oxford Comma, RIP
from TSTWWTOIELAWWISA: The Society of Those Who Wish to Take the Opportunity to Improve the English Language Whenever and Wherever It Should Arise.
Obviously, my plea to finally ban the utterly useless Oxford comma has gone unread by far too many people. The Oxford comma is not a literary device. It is a crutch… and lazy people have been using it to patch up their questionable sentence structures for far too long. It is high time we cast off our crutches and spend a little more effort writing better sentences.
Almost as an aside, consider the following sentence:
“We invited the strippers, JFK and Stalin.”
This should not really be a problem as this is quite clearly a list of three items. If we really want to relate a list of two strippers, the correct way would be to write:
“We invited the strippers: JFK and Stalin.”
However, the first example can be seen to introduce a bit of ambiguity. We could be language snobs and just demand the reader understand the meaning as written, but we should be prepared to accept responsibility for writing prose that is a bit more sloppy than it should be. The application of a little thought (and the tiniest bit of, yes, effort) can go a long way to clear up any ambiguity.
Two simple rules for elimination of the Oxford comma:
When writing a list of comma-separated items:
1. place individual words or phrases before the aggregate words or phrases and
2. place common nouns before the proper nouns.
(Yes, this could be simplified into a single two-part rule, but the subject is lists so I made a list. Sue me.)
Let’s try these rules out on some of the given examples.
For my part, I have an idiosyncratic philosophy about what constitutes “flourishing” that is derived from my parents, The Mandalorian and a swarm of bees.
For my part, I have an idiosyncratic philosophy about what constitutes “flourishing” that is derived from The Mandalorian, my parents and a swarm of bees.
Once everyone had arrived, I gave a speech about our shared principles, wearing pajamas and watching Netflix.
Once everyone had arrived, I gave a speech about wearing pajamas, watching Netflix and our shared principles.
This is enough for illustration. If there is an example of any ambiguity of meaning contained in the article that cannot be cleared up with the application of a little compositional elbow grease, I await a response.