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The Oxford Comma

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The Oxford Comma
                                             By Rocky Reichman 


      Here's something you don't hear everyday, yet something that perhaps many of us use everyday. Even in English classes Oxford Comma is very rarely heard. It's not in most dictionaries and thesauruses, including Roget's II and Webster Dictionary, unabridged. However, the Concise Oxford English Dictionary sweeps to our rescue, and defines the Oxford Comma, also known as the Serial Comma, as "a comma used after the penultimate item in a list of three or more items, before 'and' or 'or' (e.g. an Italian painter, sculptor, and architect.)"

      It is easy to see how the name Serial Comma came about--since the word "serial" denotes something "in a row," continuously, and the the Serial Comma is exactly that--but what about the name Oxford Comma?

      The answer is simple: it originates from a character of the house style of Oxford University Press. As is axiomatic from the illustrious dictionaries Oxford has produced, they had a lot of influence when it came to language, so their house style of using the oxford comma has become very popular.

      In 1918, William Strunk Junior, in his Elements of Style, discusses the Oxford Comma, and regarding whether to use or not, he agrees with the first. However, Lynne Truss, in her Eats, Shoots and Leaves, writes that you can either use the Oxford Comma or not, depending on whether you want to adhere to language standards or language style.

      Should you use the Oxford Comma? Most people generally do use it, although I personally do not, preferring standard over style when it comes to the English language, wishing to eliminate the amount of pauses in a sentence containing a list.

     The debate on the usage of the Oxford Comma may continue, but I think we've answered it here. As William Safire put it last week: "Que sera sera: "What will be will be."

 
 
 

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