Sentence Equality: The Oxford Comma

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Sentence Equality: The Oxford Comma

Brittney Gano, Editor

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If we are to take the advice of the popular 2008 song titled “Oxford Comma,” we should all just throw the highly debated serial comma out of our metaphorical grammar windows to be forever forgotten. This of course is an appealing idea to those who are being sued for 5 million dollars by a handful of angry truckers because they were missing the mark. 

This seemingly insignificant comma has been high in debate for several years, although it comes from a much simpler start, and a further past. 

The serial comma was most commonly used in the 1890s by the Oxford University Press (OUP) when it was granted its more well-known name, the Oxford comma. It’s the punctuation mark that immediately precedes the conjunction in a list of items and fires up anyone with a basic understanding of grammar. 

The comma is mainly used in formal prints, such as the overtime guidelines document that won several dairy truckers 5 million dollars in court in 2017. A lack of the use of Oxford comma within the guidelines of overtime pay caused there to be confusion as to whether there was a discrepancy between “packing for shipment,” and “distribution of,” and if drivers should receive overtime pay for both.  

The use of the comma would have greatly benefited the dairy company in their court case, though the drivers couldn’t have been too upset when they won because the document was too ambiguous without it. 

Even so, many anti-oxford comma grammar nazis still argue that the punctuation isn’t necessary and is only used by people who write terrible sentencesThey fail to acknowledge that more well-written sentences are often much longer.  

A longer sentence chocked-full of unnecessary words isn’t always for the better, especially in a conditions document that more than half of employees never read in the first place. Why elongate it to be more complex instead of just cutting to the point and throwing another comma into the mix? 

Some say it’s because the Oxford comma isn’t necessary for understanding and adds no value to a sentence. In most circumstances, a sentence can be understood without it, but its use does still have great value in a list of items. 

Using the Oxford comma gives an equal emphasis to every item in a list, whereas without it, there’s an almost awkward grouping of the last two items in a series. It provides equality to a sentence, which arguably makes it the favorite punctuation mark of liberals. 

There may always be a split in the argument over the Oxford comma, but the decision to make is whether or not you’ll be on the right side of history.