WAW: The Oxford Fucking Comma

Writing About Writing: A once-a-week post about some aspect of writing. I’m not an expert; I’m just some guy. Take it with a grain of salt.


Let’s take a break from all the controversy out there and talk about the most controversial belief I have: the Oxford fucking comma is almost never necessary.

BUT BUT –

Hush. You’re wrong.

The Oxford comma (or serial comma) is the comma that goes before words like “and.” So it would appear like this:

I hate babies, white chocolate, and the Oxford comma.

That comma right there after “white chocolate” is the Oxford comma and a lot of smart writer-y people argue about it a lot, specifically, about whether or not it deserves to exist.

Spoiler Alert: It doesn’t

I say it doesn’t because it is almost always extra. This is my training as a journalist speaking, but I hate extra anything in writing. It’s why I don’t usually NaNo and it’s why I’m the only person I know who revises novels by adding words to them. I like direct and to the point. The Oxford comma is neither of those things.

You see, the word “and” is already a verbal comma. Not always. But we’ll get to exceptions later. Certainly, in the sentence above the “and” is a verbal comma.

If you took out the comma, the sentence means exactly the same thing. I still hate those three items. “And” is carrying the weight of a comma. The word “and” actually serves no other purpose in that sentence except to be a comma. So why put another damn comma? We already use too many – you do, I do. Everyone who writes in English uses too many damn commas. Why add this extra one that is doing literally zero work in the sentence?

There are exceptions

I must confess, there are exceptions.

I like reading fantasy novels and fantasy novels often have long lists of insane and weird shit. You need the Oxford comma in situations like those when the “and” can’t carry the weight of being a comma.

For example:

I ate the charred rabbit foreleg, guntylitl garalig with sauted mushrooms and carrots, and uaotlsdn jkeiof.

At the end I may have just been mashing my keyboard, but the point stands. That sentence is too weird for us to rely on the word “and” to tell us when the list is over.

It also has one list item that has an “and” in it. The guntylitl garalig with sauted mushrooms and carrots. You could believe that the carrots were a separate item on the list if there was not a comma after “carrots” to mark them as part of the mushroom ensemble.

TL;DR

What I’m saying is that the Oxford fucking comma has its place – sometimes. But not always. Cut that shit out when you can. At least 50% of the time it’s adding stupid shit that you don’t need. Less is always more.

Good Oxford fucking comma: Lists in which one or more items contain the word “and” already; lists of complicated or unfamiliar items (meaning you need to be super clear about where one item ends and the next begins)

Bad Oxford fucking comma: Everything else. Cut that shit out.

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