my favorite animals, the oxford comma and you

This post is not about Vampire Weekend, though to answer their question it’s me who gives a cares a great deal about an Oxford comma.  In fact today’s entire discourse is about commas. Well… commas, grammar and syntax and sentence structure.  Do you see what I did there?  I left out the serial comma and the contents of this post are not quite so clear, are they?

The Oxford (or serial) comma is the comma which appears immediately before the coordinating conjunction in a list of three or more items.  You can see it below in red.

Ex.)  My favorite animals are pumas, unicorns, leprechauns, and books about turtles.

Oxford’s style manual calls for the mandatory use of the serial comma, hence the moniker.  The AP Stylebook, however, opposes mandatory use.  In the past few weeks, it seems the serial comma has come under fire.  Rumors spread quickly that Oxford was overturning their stance — but in the end, our one-legged friend’s right to a polygamous relationship with And and Or was upheld.

I love the Oxford Comma.  And I’ve written a (very) short story to show you why:

The other day Christie, Baylor and I drove to Mwanza with our two dogs, Carson and Holly.

Without the serial comma, it sure looks as if we’ve named our dogs after our teammates, Carson and Holly.  I think we’d all agree we could have avoided this confusion with the addition of one serial comma (though I’ll add two, because Baylor’s always wanted “,” to be her middle name):  The other day Christie, Baylor, and I drove to Mwanza with our two dogs, Carson, and Holly.

Also joining us on our journey were Peter, Paul and Mary and Joseph.  

Does Mary belong with Peter and Paul?  Or with Joseph?  Without an Oxford comma, we’ll never know.  And we’ll be left to argue for all of time, Christians on one side and those who smoke Puff the Magic Dragon on the other.  The sentence should read, “Also joining us on our journey were Peter, Paul, and Mary and Joseph.”  Yep, I haven’t told you yet but we were on a religious trip of sorts, a pilgrimage if you will.  And the two apostles and Jesus’ parentals rode in the back back.   [Moses was playing golf and unable to make it.]

Hungry, we stopped at a little sandwich shop to grab a bite.  In addition to various soups and desserts, the menu offered sandwiches of grilled cheese, peanut butter and jelly and corned beef.

One would likely assume jelly was meant to be spread on the sandwich with peanut butter.  But one would only be demonstrating his tremendous ignorance of Hebrew culture.  Jews love a good fruit jelly paired with a brine-cured and boiled hunk of cow meat:  In addition to various soups and desserts, the menu offered sandwiches of grilled cheese, peanut butter, and jelly and corned beef.

I was especially hungry and ordered grilled cheese, one bowl of tomato soup and one bowl of ice cream and pickles.

You’re getting the hang of this now.  I did NOT eat pickles on my ice cream.  What am I, pregnant?!  You know where to put the comma.

There to greet us when we arrived in Mwanza were my two best friends, Frankenstein and Persephone.

Contrary to the wording of this sentence, I’d never met the good doctor or the queen of the underworld before that fateful day in Mwanza.  As most of you already know, my two best friends are named Sir Winston Churchill and Elvis.  A comma of the serial type should have followed Frankenstein’s good name; we could have avoided much confusion.  Also my reputation would have remained intact.

That’s the end of the story.

**********

I love the serial comma, so I hesitate to do this… but I should at least mention that occasionally the serial comma can itself lead to confusion.  As in the following sentence:

I rode the Ferris Wheel at the National Peanut Festival with my daughter, Ernest Borgnine, and a life-size cardboard cutout of Lizzie McGuire.

My daughter is NOT named Ernest Borgnine.  He just happens to have a nephew who’s a carney.  And never mind the Lizzie McGuire cutout.  That is frankly none of your business.

**********

I think we’ll all agree this post has been informative, full of wit and charming.  Or has it been informative, full of wit, and charming?

What do you think of the serial comma?  Or perhaps you can offer your own confusing sentence by which we can all be amused?  Actually, please do offer your own sentence.  I’d really like that — and so would my good friends, Winston and Elvis.

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7 Comments

Filed under slightly humorous or amusing?

7 responses to “my favorite animals, the oxford comma and you

  1. Bravo Brett! This was painfully entertaining. And I just want to thank you for sticking with my blog despite the myriad offenses I’ve made in the realms of grammatical bliss. I do apologize.

    • thanks for commenting, mandy. of course it’d be on a humorous post, though. you don’t seem to care for serious jamesbrett. and your blog’s great; i honestly don’t remember ever finding errors in your blog. and i promise, too, i don’t read blogs in attempts to find errors. though you better believe if you miss a serial comma now, i’ll bring it up.

  2. so nobody’s got a sentence for me? come on, people.

  3. Daniel

    I am usually a serial comma user, because I was taught to use them by my school teachers, by my parents, George Castanza and Sinead O’Connor.

  4. Pingback: God d—it! doing stuff in vain | aliens and strangers

  5. Pingback: poorly placed holiday apostrophes — its a crying shame | aliens and strangers

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