Oxford cleared of serial comma killing
To Oxford comma, or not to Oxford comma? That is the question which has been taxing the internet over the past 24 hours, after it emerged – erroneously, as it later turned out – that the Oxford comma was being dropped by the University of Oxford style guide.
The punctuation-related hooha arose after US publishing site GalleyCat was alerted by @RantyEditor’s tweet that “Oxford Style Guide ditches the Oxford comma. I have strong feelings about this, none of them good”. “As a general rule, do not use the serial/Oxford comma: so write ‘a, b and c’ not ‘a, b, and c’,” it advises, on the Oxford University website.
Cue widespread wailing and gnashing of teeth, and vows to carry on using the Oxford comma forever, regardless. “I am absolutely not a flawless user of any kind of punctuation,” wrote Linda Holmes on NPR. “And yet, even the rumbling of a distant threat to the Oxford comma (or ‘serial comma’) turns me instantly into an NFL referee, blowing my whistle and improvising some sort of signal — perhaps my hands clasped to my own head as if in pain — to indicate that the loss of the serial comma would sadden me beyond words.” “Are you people insane? The Oxford comma is what separates us from the animals,” tweeted another punctuation obsessive, as the Twittersphere took off with collective punctuation woe.
Fortunately for fans, it has since emerged that 30 June was not the day the Oxford comma died. The Oxford University guidelines are only for staff writing press releases and internal communications, a spokesperson has said, and Oxford University Press has asserted that the Oxford comma lives on, just the same as it ever was.
While I’m not a particular fan of the Oxford comma (the Guardian style guide allows its use in potentially confusing circumstances), finding that it breaks up the flow of a sentence, I am strangely moved by the fact that so many people are. Happy days indeed, that punctuation can be such an emotive subject. Sorry, Vampire Weekend, but it turns out that we do give a fuck about the Oxford comma.