{Guest Post} Writing Tips from a Crotchety Editor: My Mom Went to Oxford and All I Got was this Lousy Comma

Writing Tips from a Crotchety Old Editor, Part 2: The Oxford Comma Old Editor Part 2

Friends: I’m stepping away from blogging temporarily to work on my second non-fiction book during NaNoWriMo and December. And maybe part of January, too. In my place, my own GHF Press editor Sarah Wilson is guest hosting a series on writing and editing here at RW&G. That’s right–I’m loaning you my very own fabulous editor. Enjoy! ~ Pamela

As the Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma, fades from use, I want to take a moment to spit into the wind of change and take a stand for the Oxford comma.

Despite its name, the Oxford comma is mainly used in the U.S., though decreasingly so. The comma is used as part of a list, prior to the final “and.”

Examples:

  • With Oxford comma: Jose played the piano loudly, energetically, and fervently.
  • Without: Jose played the piano loudly, energetically and fervently.

In this particular case, the additional comma does not add clarity to the sentence, but I like writing to look consistent, so I would include it.

As many of you may have seen on Facebook, memes supporting the Oxford comma pop up all over people’s timelines. (OK, maybe that’s just my timeline.) Basically, the memes illustrate the dire consequences of not including an Oxford comma. Without it, you risk writing “highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector” (from an article published in “The Times” about Peter Ustinov).

I realize that most of the English-writing world no longer automatically uses the Oxford comma, and though I’d like to mount a rebellion against that tide, I realize I am one lone voice in a cacophony of saved ink, increased typing speeds, and Anglophilia (how’s that for mixed metaphors?). So, I will say this:

If you choose not to default to the Oxford comma, please always proof your writing for clarity. That dear old comma still has its place in your writing, even if only sporadically. Otherwise, we won’t know if you read about the rhinoceroses, Washington and Lincoln, or the rhinoceroses, Washington, and Lincoln.
Sarah J. Wilson is a freelance editor and writer, as well as editor in chief for Gifted Homeschoolers Forum. She writes at Watch Out For Gifted People and Homeschool Review.

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