Today, let’s talk about a nerdy debate that continues to rage. But, my dear listeners…there is only ONE CORRECT answer to question…“Oxford comma or not?” This quick copy tip is all about the Oxford Comma.
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What is the Oxford Comma anyway?
Another name for it is the serial comma. It’s when you put a comma before the and in a list of 3 or more things.
For example, “I love the movies Die Hard [comma] Just Go With It [comma] and Independence Day.”
Should I use it?
The short answer is because it’s more clear. Some argue it’s a stylistic choice and to ‘just be consistent in your usage.’ Okay, fair enough. But, there is no denying that writing with the extra comma is more clear!
Here are 4 examples to convince you.
1. How many seats at the table do we need?
• Without the Oxford Comma: “I ate lunch with my grandparents, Liz and Kyle.”
• With the Oxford Comma: “I ate lunch with my grandparents, Liz, and Kyle.”
When you hear this statement, how many seats at the table do you think we need?
Well, WITHOUT the Oxford Comma, we could need 3 seats or 5!
What do I mean?
Without the extra comma, I COULD be naming my grandparents as Liz and Kyle. Therefore, we’d need 3 seats…one for me, and two for my grandparents (whose names are Liz and Kyle.
Or, I COULD be naming my grandparents and two additional people named Liz and Kyle (who happen to be the names of my favorite cousin and his wife). Therefore, we’d need seats for my grandparents, Liz, Kyle, and me…that’s 5.
Therefore, if — as in this case — Liz and Kyle are not the names of my grandparents an Oxford comma is essential to make that clear.
2. Are JFK and Stalin stripping again?
There’s a funny meme image that goes around that reads, “We invited the strippers, JFK, and Stalin to the party.”
And it is accompanied by two images…one with the Oxford comma showing 2 female strippers, JFK, and Stalin (so 4 people) and another without the comma showing JFK and Stalin as strippers (2 people).
3. Can you even talk to toast?
I’ll include it and the stripper image in the shownotes!…is “I had eggs, toast, and OJ.” With the serial comma, it shows you are naming 3 things you had for breakfast.
Without the serial comma, it is as if you are saying “I had eggs” TO toast and orange juice…like toast and orange juice are a person you are talking to about your breakfast.
Long story short, there is no denying that the Oxford comma makes your writing more clear. And isn’t that an element of what makes our copy pop? What makes it compelling?
We want to be clear and understood!
I can tell you that when I read lists without the Oxford comma I spend too much time trying to figure out the intended meaning and get annoyed by the author.
If I do that, I am not alone. (There are lots of writing nerds out there — let’s start a club…we’ll meet on Thursdays ;)). So, don’t annoy your nerdy audience…use the Oxford comma and be crystal clear.
Okay, I think there are still some folks unconvinced…who cares about being crrryyyystal clear if it requires extra punctuation!?
4. The $5 million dollar comma
One final example for you…
Not using the Oxford comma could cost you $5 million!
Take Oakhurst Dairy and their shipping department — there was an overtime dispute between the company and its drivers. And the whole thing hinged on the lack of an Oxford comma!
According to a History 101.com article entitled “30 of the most expensive mistakes in history”…
“Lawyers representing the drivers argued that a sentence in a contract the employees all signed needed the oxford comma to clarify that overtime pay was forfeited in a specific situation. “That comma would have sunk our ship,” the drivers’ attorney David G. Webbert told the New York Times. The company settled the lawsuit by paying the drivers a total of $5 million. That’s one expensive comma!”
Noooowwww are you convinced??
That’s it, my nerdy copy compadres! Remember that the Oxford comma is more clear and cost-effective! 😛
Talk again next time when we’ll find more ways together to write copy that pops! 🙂
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