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One of the reviews of “You, Me and the Apocalypse” noted that for an English coproduction, the creators showed a shocking disregard for the “Oxford comma.”

Here in America, adding “You” to the un-comma’ed title “Me and the Apocalypse” requires a comma after “You” but does not result in a second comma being placed after “Me.” The proctors at Oxford, however, disagree. So if one were “correctly” using the Oxford comma, the title would be changed to “You, Me, and the Apocalypse.” See the difference? If you use the Oxford comma, it looks wrong, but some people swear by it.

I did go to school at one time, at Columbia, and while I do not recall what Katherine Bucknell taught me about the Oxford comma in Freshman Composition, count me as an Oxford comma skeptic, at least.

To begin with, let’s put aside the idea that the “Queen’s English” as determined by the instructors at a ruling class British university should have any particular sway over the American language; after all, at Oxford they write “gaol” and “colour” and they believe that there is such a thing as “aluminium.” And we don’t.

Advocates of the Oxford comma argue that it adds clarity. In a recent “Grammerly” column, Jocelyn Blore, an O.C. enthusiast, proclaims herself “confident in my belief that the Oxford comma is essential in clarifying meaning,” and for evidence, she offers the following sentence from a hypothetical Oscar acceptance speech:

“I’d like to thank my parents, Bill Hudson and Goldie Hawn.”

Written as I have done it, without the OC, you would think that my parents are Bill Hudson and Goldie Hawn. Written with the Oxford comma (“I’d like to thank my parents, Bill Hudson, and Goldie Hawn”), you would not. So, according to Ms. Blore, if the speech were uttered by Kate Hudson, this would be a perfectly good sentence to utter, but anyone else should put a comma after “Bill Hudson.”

My answer to that is that if you really need the Oxford comma to make it clear whether your mother is Goldie Hawn, you really need to take a writing class. If I were winning an Oscar and wished to thank Goldie and Bill, I would try to make the source of my gratitude a little clearer to avoid confusion:

“I would like to thank my parents, for encouraging my dreams. I would also like to thank Bill Hudson, who helped me with my script, and my wonderful co-star, Goldie Hawn.”

You see?

And the flip side of this “clarity” argument is easy to imagine. Take the following sentence, from my hypothetical Oscar acceptance speech, written WITH the Oxford comma, as Ms. Blore would implore:

“I would like to thank my father, Bill Hudson, and Goldie Hawn.”

Now what does this mean? Use of the Oxford comma in this case implies Bill Hudson is my dad, even though he is not, and that Goldie Hawn is some unrelated third party. If Zachary Hudson said this (whose father is Bill Hudson, but whose mother is Cindy Williams) it would make sense, but not if I wrote it. In THIS case, the ambiguity would go away if you were to REMOVE the Oxford comma.

So in some cases the O.C. clarifies, in some cases it confuses. If Oxford comma enthusiasts really think their favorite punctuation mark instantly clarifies any sentence, they need to go back to school.

The Oxford comma may be correct English in England, but here in America it’s bad grammar, and I won’t use it.




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