Careful, your Oxford Comma is Showing

When writers get together they talk shop, just like those in other professions. Someone asked me recently if I had an opinion about the Oxford comma. The Oxford comma? I didn’t really want to admit that I had no idea what an Oxford comma was, but I think I mumbled something half-way intelligible. At least, I hope I did.

I did what any self-respecting writer would do – I did my homework. The Oxford comma has a Facebook page. I’m serious about that. Copious websites have been dedicated to the Oxford comma. Who knew? I didn’t. I consulted my copy of the Chicago Manual of Style. The sixteenth edition of the manual is over one-thousand pages long, was released simultaneously online and in print, and is the editor’s bible.

By the way, I just used the Oxford comma. It turns out it’s also known as the serial comma. When a conjunction follows a list of three or more items, then a comma should appear before the conjunction.

Using the Oxford – or serial – comma, can avoid confusion.

They dined on meat, potatoes, and carrots.

There’s no confusion about that sentence, but what about this next one?

They met with the company president, the chief financial officer and executive assistant.

Is the chief financial officer really also the executive assistant? Maybe that’s a bad example, but I think you get the point. The way I was trained, the serial comma was unnecessary. After reading more about it, I’ve changed my mind. So I guess I do have an opinion on the Oxford Comma. I use it. Now I suppose I’m going to have to edit my manuscripts to correct for the serial comma.

The Chicago Manual of Style is available online at the following web site.

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/home.html

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