The Oxford comma debate


The Oxford Comma and whether or not it is really necessary is debated around schools.

Fiona Griffin and Phineaus Whedon

In 2018, Oakhurst Dairy paid out millions of dollars to its employees over a single piece of missing punctuation within Maine’s legislature: the Oxford comma.

The Oxford comma as popularized by the head of the Oxford University Press, Horace Hart, in 1905 when he wrote a press style guide that included it. The Oxford comma is used when listing three or more items, placed between the second-to-last item and the word “and.”

Many speculate that the Oxford comma fell out of widespread use due to newspaper printers trying to save money on ink, but this is a common misconception. The main reason the Oxford comma fell out of circulation was simply to make writing more concise.

While the Oxford comma is a staple of many newspapers, it is abhorred by just as many. The polarizing nature of the Oxford comma has made it a hot topic in the literary world. English teacher Jaime Vander Velde is an avid supporter of the Oxford comma.

“It’s the standard way that most people are instructed,” Vander Velde said. “It gives a sense of what is happening in the progression of a thought.”

Vander Velde’s beliefs ring true with many other supporters. The Oxford comma was customary in news writing for a long time, until many argued that the comma adds needless verbosity to a story, something that news writers try to avoid.

This argument does not make all that much sense, though. Ultimately, the singular extra comma does not do much to get in the way of brevity. The clarity and professionalism the comma adds outweighs the extra character of space that it takes up.

Sophomore Kaitlyn Gallagher of Neptune is a staunch advocate of the Oxford comma for all of its grammatical benefits, as well as the tone it projects.

“When people don’t use it in writing, it can sound very sterile,” Gallagher said. “Plus, if there are multiple things being listed, it’s absolutely necessary for accuracy.”

For Gallagher, the Oxford comma brings an air of sophistication to a piece of writing. However, for sophomore Charlotte Davie of Howell, this air is exactly what makes the comma unappealing.

“It’s not really a clarifying point, it’s just there because you want to look fancy,” Davie said. “It’s a waste of ink—your writing will still be fine without it.”

While the Oxford comma may seem useless as Davie implies, it does play a crucial role in clarity. For example, the meaning changes entirely between these two sentences due to the omission of the Oxford comma:

“This play is dedicated to my parents, Snoop Dogg, and Barack Obama.”

As opposed to:

“This play is dedicated to my parents, Snoop Dogg and Barack Obama.”

While the first sentence has the Oxford comma to separate all three groups in the list, the second sentence does not, implying that the parents are Dogg and Obama. The Oxford comma clarifies sentences that wouldn’t have been clear without them.

Overall, the Oxford comma is a divisive piece of punctuation. While some praise it for the clarity it brings, others malign it, arguing that it serves no real purpose.

The Oxford comma is necessary for the sake of clarity in writing. As the above example proves, it’s very easy for readers to get lost without the Oxford comma.

Sophomore Molly McCarthy of Manasquan will always use the Oxford comma despite the haters.

“The Oxford comma is great, I don’t understand why people don’t use it,” McCarthy said. “It organizes things better, it looks professional, and I feel like people who don’t use it just kind of look stupid.”