Yesterday, Mediabistro's GalleyCat ran a post that made it seem like Oxford University Press was dropping the use of its eponymous comma, also known as the serial comma. The story took off and became a Twitter meme so big that by today it had its own Associated Press story. But unfortunately for GalleyCat (or maybe fortunately, because it seems to be getting them a lot of clicks), it wasn't exactly true. The instruction to do away with the comma, which follows the last word in a series, appeared not in the OUP style guide, but rather the guide issued for the University of Oxford Public Affairs Directorate:
As a general rule, do not use the serial/Oxford comma: so write ‘a, b and c’ not ‘a, b, and c’. But when a comma would assist in the meaning of the sentence or helps to resolve ambiguity, it can be used – especially where one of the items in the list is already joined by ‘and’: They had a choice between croissants, bacon and eggs, and muesli.
The main OUP style guide, however, definitely still allows for the use of the Oxford comma. So does the Chicago Manual of Style, however the Associated Press and New York Times style guides do not. The whole mess got people very exercised on Twitter, leading to a lot of vaguely humorous examples as to why folks think we need the serial comma. Jeremy Dibell, of Librarything.com, illustratively tweeted, "Among those interviewed were his two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall."
But the real laughs, for us, came with the introduction of all sorts of new commas we had never heard of before: Obviously CMS fans wanted to rename the Oxford comma the Chicago comma, which is fine. But did you know about the Shatner comma?
Professor friend o mine is against losing the Oxford comma, but wishes his students would lose the Shatner comma. You, know, what, he means.
BREAKING: I prefer the Ohio University comma to the Oxford comma. The Ohio University comma is when you pause between words to take a drink.
The Oxford comma rejected me, but luckily I had applied to the Arizona State comma as my safety comma.
Replace the Oxford comma with the Yale comma. It's not as prestigious but still gets the job done.
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