Widely debated both within the UltraViolet staff and the larger Marlborough community, the Oxford comma remains one of the most notoriously controversial aspects of the English language. The frequency of this discussion between members of the UltraViolet stems from one of the main AP Style Guide rules: do NOT (ever!) use the Oxford comma. Whether quoting someone or formatting a lengthy list, the Oxford comma is one of the biggest newspaper “no-nos”.
I have found myself often confronted with the dilemma of whether to use the Oxford comma or not. Personally, I am a big believer in the Oxford comma and I despise reading sentences that don’t use it where they should. Writing without an Oxford comma not only makes the sentence feel unfinished, but can also lead to confusion.
For example, one time, I received an email that asked me to bring pencils, pens or highlighters to class. The absence of the Oxford comma confused me. Was I supposed to bring pencils and EITHER pens or highlighters? Was I supposed to only bring one type of writing utensil? I still couldn’t tell you to this day.
Not only has the Oxford comma (or lack thereof) been an issue for me, but according to the New York Times, in 2018, a dairy company in Maine had to pay its employees five million dollars because of a dispute regarding the conditions under which an employee is paid for overtime work. Now, you may be wondering: how does a dairy company in Maine relate to the Oxford comma? Well, the reason the company had to pay the employees was because of the unclear grammar in the list of terms surrounding overtime work. The culprit for the lack of clarity in the terms was none other than the Oxford comma.
These are just a couple of examples of how necessary and significant the Oxford comma is to our society. Had the Oxford comma been used in both of these cases, an entire lawsuit would have been avoided and I would have known how to prepare for class.
While I’m sure the Oxford comma will remain a topic of heated debate in the newspaper room, you can rest assured that I will be using the Oxford comma in all of my writing (other than for the UltraViolet).