The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Sunday June 26th

Viewpoints: Defending the Oxford comma is tacky and unnecessary

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I don’t care enough about the Oxford comma to defend it. 

Usage of the Oxford comma isn’t allowed according to the Associated Press Stylebook. In my first college news writing class, writing around it became an easy habit to pick up when my professor took off five points for every unnecessary instance of the Oxford comma. By the end of the semester, I found every instance of it unnecessary. (Shout out to professor Chris Roush, who taught me nearly everything I know about writing good!)

To be honest, I usually find people who proclaim they are “Oxford comma or bust” a little tacky or borderline annoying. To my friends in copy-editing who looooove it: Please know that I love you more than I don’t care about the Oxford comma. Punctuation is useful. It’s helpful. But it’s just not that cool.

The classic example that defenders of the Oxford comma love to bring up goes something like this: 

“We invited the strippers, JFK, and Stalin.” 

Take away the Oxford comma and you get the following: 

“We invited the strippers, JFK and Stalin.”

While I’ll concede that it’s a cute example, it’s definitely not a good example.

If a writer came to me with the sentence: “We invited the strippers, JFK, and Stalin,” I’d firstly remove the Oxford comma. It’s against AP Style. Then, I’d ask the writer to either identify the strippers by name or identify JFK and Stalin by profession for the sake of uniformity. 

“We invited Tyler, Rachel, JFK and Stalin.” 

“We invited the strippers and the deceased world leaders.”

Yes, the Oxford comma helps clarify poorly written, ambiguous sentences. But a good editor helps writers form clear sentences without needing that crutch of an extra character. Get to the heart of what you’re trying to say quickly and clearly — strong writing will only strengthen your argument.

Journalism writing should be descriptive, succinct and accessible. 

We don’t need the Oxford comma to accomplish that. 


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