I am the Oxford Comma.
A lot of people love me. A lot of people hate me. A lot of people misspell my name as Oxford Coma.
I think that’s fair. Frankly, debates about me are about as engaging as a basement full of balding white dudes recording their podcast “Let’s Yell At Each Other About Movies From the ‘90s”.
I’m sorry. That was unfair. I apologize if you’re a balding white dude in a basement yelling about movies from the ‘90s for the purposes of podcasting, catharsis, or because you have some form of ‘90s-movies-specific Tourette’s.
Anyway, did you see that list in the last paragraph of that sentence? That was me KILLING IT at what I do. I make lists easier to read.
For example, here’s a sentence with me in it:
Today, I edited Wikipedia articles about DC comics, Batman, and Butt Plugs.
Here’s the same sentence without me in it:
Today, I edited Wikipedia articles about DC comics, Batman and Butt Plugs.
Without me, there’s the possibility of confusion. When you take me out of that sentence, it looks like DC publishes a comic book called Butt Plugs. It might even look like there’s a whole Wikipedia article called “Batman and Butt Plugs”.
Instead of being engaged by the accurate meaning of the sentence, a reader is distracted with thoughts like “I’m not sure about the direction DC Comics is taking Batman”, “I need to look up that punk band”, or “That’s a mean nickname for Robin, The Boy Wonder”.
I make things a little clearer. That’s pretty much my whole thing. I want to create the opportunity for understanding.
Let me be clear: I am not necessary. But when you get right down to it, who or what is? The world spins on after we’re all gone.
If the exclamation point mysteriously disappeared tomorrow, we’d roll with it!
I’ll say it again:
If the exclamation point mysteriously disappeared tomorrow, we’d roll with it. I mean that emphatically.
It would suck to lose the exclamation point right now. We’ve managed, as a society, to get so snarky and rude in our written communication we need to put exclamation points in business emails just to make it clear we’re not cranky, disinterested assholes.
But even if the exclamation point went the way of the dodo, we would not fall apart. We’d just replace it with a dollar sign or an emoji of a cat wearing a fez.
If we’re just randomly getting rid of punctuation marks, let’s throw semicolon under the bus. Semicolon is weak, confusing, and sounds like a gross medical condition.
I’m useful. I make sense. Can you say that about other commas? Commas are the cilantro of grammar, people just throw it any damn place, in a desperate attempt to make a confusing run-on sentence work, am I right, or what, you guys?
Yes, I take up an extra space. Outside of Twitter or billboards for Budweiser, who gives a damn about an extra space?
Besides, if we’re so worried about extra space, let’s put the focus where it belongs: double spaces after a period.
Here’s a fun fact: did you know that a monster lives in EVERY extra space between sentences? It’s true. Look it up on Wikipedia.
I add clarity. No clarity is added with a double space after a sentence. There are only two reasons for that extra space: Either the writer refuses to change the typing habits they learned on an Apple II in 1983 or they have controversial, dogmatic opinions about the history of sans serif kerning. The latter will corner you by the keg at a craft beer festival and tell you all about it.
But, as that kerning historian screaming by the Hefeweizen tap might tell you, it’s not just about clarity. It’s also about aesthetics.
Some people are annoyed when they see me just sitting there in a sentence. They think I ruin the flow. I’m a symbol of waste. I’m a pompous punctuation desperately clinging to relevance.
I understand. I really do. After all, understanding is what I’m all about.
I may be old. I may be fussy. I may take up space. The world would spin on just fine without me.
But, dammit, I want to be here. The world is confusing, cacophonous, and quick to anger. I just want to help a little. I just want to be the fragile line of reason between Batman and Butt Plugs.
I am the Oxford Comma. I provide understanding, clarity, and a third thing.
Isn’t that enough?
The Oxford Comma
P.S. I really do love movies from the ‘90s like The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction, Jurassic Park, and Scream.
P.P.S. Without me, you might think there’s a movie from the ‘90s called Jurassic Park and Scream. Too bad there isn’t.