Satire: Glorious grammar and its partnership with the Oxford comma


Kaelyn Savard

The exclusion of the oxford comma in formal writing has become the center of a long-standing grammatical debate over whether its nonexistence continues to be a golden standard, or has become a literary nuisance.

Caroline Hubner, Reporter

The Oxford comma is simply known as the comma placed before the conjunction in a list of three or more items in a sentence. The use of a comma is generally described as separating words that are related but not synonymous, therefore the Oxford comma is a brilliant use of punctuation to add clarity to a sentence. Because shouldn’t the goal of all writing be to display the central topic in the clearest way possible? All great writers would attest to this fact, and yet the Associated Press is still adamant on upholding their “standard” to exclude the Oxford comma, which not only doesn’t make grammatical sense, but it defies the foundation of basic common sense. 

The controversy all began back in 2017 when Associated Press (AP) and Chicago style both released updated versions of their stylebooks, and while most other topics evolved with the times, AP style tweeted (yes, tweeted) that while they are not against the use of the Oxford comma, it should be avoided when deemed “unnecessary”. Of course, the internet quickly rebutted with all the legitimate reasons why that statement is completely ridiculous, and the response was simply “style can be interpreted differently”. Sure, style is a key aspect of developing quality work, but how would the placement of punctuation be considered stylistic? Diction, syntax, tone, imagery, and rhetoric are all examples of ways authors can individualize their writing—yet, notice that no accredited professional has ever claimed that altering one’s use of punctuation will make the audience swoon. Good grammar is good writing, so the argument that style is a major reason behind abandoning the use of the Oxford comma lacks substantive evidence. 

Another issue with the AP stylebook’s take on the Oxford comma is the lack of defined guidelines for when it’s acceptable and when it should be avoided. They claim that it should only be used when necessary for clarity, but the whole point of using the serial comma is for creating clarity when listing items, so by the logic of the transitive property, that makes every usage of the Oxford comma necessary. It would honestly be more respectable, albeit illogical, for the Associated Press to outright deny the use of the Oxford comma in any situation. Instead, they have created this confusion regarding “necessity”, making their stance on the whole issue significantly weaker. In fact, a Maine state lawsuit was filed by the drivers of Oakhurst Dairy over misconceptions created by the absence of an Oxford comma, demonstrating that even the law is on the side of good grammar.

Why does journalism care so deeply about a single punctuation mark? Well, to put it simply, most reputable newspapers and publications require their reporters to write in AP style format, and since “necessity” is debatable, most editors don’t allow the Oxford comma in order to maintain continuity. If AP style were to formally update their stylebook to include the Oxford comma as an approved grammatical structure, thousands of reporters would be able to practice the grammar they learned from state curriculums. Also, many publications receive recognition from the NSPA and CSPA based on their dedication to AP style, so it’s vital for writers to uphold AP style, even if it means applying illogical and outdated “grammar” to their work. 

To put it simply, the Oxford comma is a heavenly gift sent to the journalistic community straight from the hands of the grammar gods themselves, but the AP demon has decided to withhold such a gift in hopes of retaining popularity and control during the evolution of language within the press. The people, the law, and the all-knowing hive-mind of Twitter have all sided with the Oxford comma; now it’s just a question of whether or not society is ready to practice good grammar, common sense, and overall better writing. (Now imagine that last sentence without the Oxford comma. It just sounds and looks repulsive, doesn’t it?).

What do you think?