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The Oxford Comma: Either way, be consistant

By October 24, 2013Copywriting
Oxford Comma

I was trained by very passionate proofreaders in my early agency days to love the Oxford Comma (also known as the Serial Comma or Harvard Comma). Because of this and several real-life scenarios that made the case for the Oxford Comma, Hall or Nothing Designs pitches its tent in the “Pro” camp. Do you know what camp your brand is in? You should. Here’s some examples that will help you decide where you want to pitch your tent. Then be consistent with its application.

The argument in favor:

The Oxford comma is common in many non-English languages of Latin descent, like Spanish, Italian, Greek, and French, to name a few. The Oxford Comma eliminates ambiguity. The most popularly illustrated example shows how the same sentence can be interpreted with clarity or hilarity:
With: “We invited the strippers, JFK, and Stalin.”  I’m sure JFK and Stalin will enjoy the entertainment.
Without: “We invited the strippers, JFK and Stalin.”  JFK and Stalin apparently have night jobs.

The argument against:

The Oxford Comma was eliminated by the Associated Press in an effort to save precious column space in publishing, a decision based solely on brevity, not clarity. The problem with the above example is that the serial comma could just as easily cause an undesired interpretation:
With: “We invited the stripper, JFK, and Stalin.” Stalin is going to see JFK take off his clothes.
Without: “We invited the stripper, JFK and Stalin.” Three people were invited to the party.

Rephrasing is preferable

In any case, these rare problems can be easily resolved with rephrasing:
With: “We invited JFK, Stalin, and the strippers.”
Without: “We invited JFK, Stalin and the strippers.”

Related items in a list

The Oxford Comma is most useful in presenting complicated lists.
“I have packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, tuna salad sandwiches, and a trail mix containing peanuts, raisins, and m&ms for our picnic.”

The following infographic might help you decide which style you want your brand to follow:

The Oxford Comma

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