People are passionate about the serial comma one way or another. I’ve witnessed the most hyperbolic exchanges around that particular usage of the comma. I will use whatever convention the recipient has requested (APA 7th Ed, sure. AP Style, okay, let’s not). However, I refuse to call that piece of punctuation an “Oxford comma” because that’s some snobby, ethnocentric bull malarkey. I also refuse to accept the use or abstinence from the serial comma as “correct.” Like, why follow some tweed-wearing grammar dweeb? Do your own thing.
I have a dear friend who was an Oxford comma person. He once said to me, “I guess since you don’t care about sensible comma usage, spelling can be a crapshoot too.” This was a direct reference to the fact that I was always a terrible speller and regularly tested in the lower 30th percentile of spellers. It would be a low blow if I wrapped my ego in spelling or standardized tests.
Here’s the thing, it’s not that I don’t care about sensible comma usage. It’s just that I find the “Oxford comma” community takes the stance that “I’m smart enough to know that Michelle Obama and Pitbull aren’t my parents, but other people are too dumb to figure it out.” I’m a language of, by and for the people kind of person and not someone who needs to be told by Oxford what is the fashionable punctuation of the day. I feel like, hold on to your beloved serial comma, people. Let’s just also recognize that Oxford didn’t invent it, and it’s not even all that new at Oxford. People just want to be fancy.
Okay, now that I wrote that, fine. Let people be fancy. But I’m judging just as I judge anyone who believes royal blood is a thing. It’s not. It’s the same blood as everyone else’s, just with a cache of primogenitured plundered valuables.
For a long time I called the serial comma the “Harvard comma” because at least that’s New World. We have fancy education here too. Then I realized, Harvard and Oxford, like the royal family, aren’t all that special. Why not call it the community college comma? (I saw that elsewhere, and it’s brilliant.)
My Oxford comma buddy’s story has changed since starting to teach 7th grade. Not only does he now use the term “serial comma,” he sees how gatekeepy it is to force it on emerging writers. He recently writes:
“Academics have an unhealthy love for the serial comma. Like, I dig it, but still recognize its general ‘in the way-ness.’ But these mf-ers won’t let it go.”
Blessings on those who illuminate their writing with the serial comma. It is a gorgeous flourish. Serial comma users should feel proud to have mastered one of the potential uses for a comma. I admire how extra it makes a written piece — like a tidy shot by an Instagram influencer. I’ll do my best to show respect for those who insist the emperor’s new clothes are all that. However, I’ll just be over here putting things in a series list using punctuation that is practically and descriptively named.