How I learned to love the Oxford comma

I’ll admit, the title is a bit of a lie. I don’t love the Oxford comma. My true love will always be devoted to cheese and edentata mammals. And my partner. In fact, I find the Oxford comma in short lists down-right ugly. There, I said it.

But, I have come to appreciate its usefulness.

The Oxford comma removes the ambiguity of certain sentences by providing consistency. If an author has used commas in this way throughout the book and there isn’t one, then there shouldn’t be one and you can read the sentences knowing that.

Take this line from The Mortician’s Boy:

The picture rocked harder, beating out an irregular tattoo on the table that grew steadily,  louder and faster.

Without consistent use of the Oxford comma, this sentences is a little ambiguous. It doesn’t change the meaning much, but it change the way it sounds, which changes the flow. And besides, clarity and precision should be your aim. Did I mean the tattoo grew steadily, both louder and faster, or did I mean it grew, and steadily, louder, and faster all describe this? Consistent use of the Oxford comma throughout the book would have highlighted I meant the former.

So, I put ascetics aside and dropped them in where they belong. And they’re they’ll stay, small, ugly, and unloved. But tolerated at least.

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