The Oxford (or serial) comma

I have a background in journalism. It all started with falling in love with newspapers as a kid, which lead me to join my high schools’ newspapers and in college, majoring in journalism. The Associated Press Stylebook was something hammered into my brain early on. I still capitalize Kleenex and Popsicle in my head when I say the words aloud since they are both technically name brands, as the guidebook dictates. AP also wants us to avoid using an oxford or serial comma, or a final comma in a list of things.

The AP’s take usually comes down to less is more and keeps it out. Others, however, want it for clarity all the time.

Here’s just one of the many funny examples often used in support of that pesky comma:

Image of a comic showing separated eggs, toast and orange juice in a list versus not having another comma, which makes the orange juice sound like it is on the toast.
So many versions of examples like this show how gross not using that additional comma can make a phrase.

Now on my second style guide draft for a government agency, I am firmly in the camp of “make it make sense.” That’s it. No fierce fights. If it’s something simple like the grocery list example I used above, then I don’t think another comma is necessary. However, if there is even a slight inkling that it could be confusing to your reader, just use it. Sorry, journalism professors, although I am still trying to unlearn spelling out “percentage” (AP changed this in last few years from always using the symbol), this comma hill is not something I even want to climb let alone die on.

Modern technology often gives us the privilege of not worrying over the same things as the days of only ink and paper. In this digital age, character spacing is cheap. Might as well make it count.

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