Last week, we got a good bit of attention from the advertising and PR communities alike for Shawn Paul Wood’s post on the status of the Oxford comma, informally known as “the Kanye West of punctuation”. A recent survey by FiveThirtyEight, or your home for data-driven OCD on the web, found that only grammar snobs and copywriters really “give a f*ck” about the greatest/worst mark to come to our attention since the tattoo we wisely decided not to get during freshman year of college.
What, did you think the debate had ended? To paraphrase the late Karen Carpenter, it’s only just begun…
Monday brought a shot heard ’round (certain parts of) the journalistic world via Roy Peter Clark, founder of the you-should-read-this-every-day nonprofit resource Poynter. As he put it:
“Forget Red States versus Blue States, campers. Forget Brazil vs. Argentina in the World Cup. Want to see the fur fly? Debate the Oxford comma.”
We did, and we will! Clark argues that the AP Style Book should follow its controversial conflation of “over” and “more than” by officially adopting the Oxford comma…and soothing the sensitive, if cynical, souls of the global writing community. From his book:
“For three decades, I have included that final comma in a series only to watch helplessly as my journalism editors pluck it out with tweezers.
I say with the certainty of inevitable contradiction that when it comes to the serial comma, sometimes called the Oxford comma, the literary folks have it right, and the journalists have it wrong. The reader needs that final comma before ‘and’ in a series. I need it.”
In other words…
Leaving out the Oxford comma is like putting up a fence and leaving out a picket. The dog is going to get out of the yard.
— Roy Peter Clark (@RoyPeterClark) June 25, 2014
See, he’s good at this:
I lift my can of Coke to the Oxford comma: the pause that refreshes.
— Roy Peter Clark (@RoyPeterClark) June 24, 2014
An even more insightful point from older-than-old-school Washington Post scribe Robert J. Samuelson:
“The comma is, after all, a small sign that flashes PAUSE. It tells the reader to slow down, think a bit, and then move on. We don’t have time for that. No pauses allowed. In this sense, the comma’s fading popularity is also social commentary.”
Our friends in the PRSA even wrote a note to the AP folks with some more helpful suggestions–and we do strongly agree that “%” is just as good as “percent.”
Now the results of this great experiment are in, and the survey wasn’t even close: a vast majority of Poynter and FiveThirtyEight readers do prefer the Oxford comma.
Here’s the same graph in t-shirt form:
For the record, our official editorial guidelines do not favor the use of said comma. We welcome the debate, which at this point looks to end with popular opinion pushing the saddest practice in all of punctuation out of existence.
Again, don’t say Bill Murray didn’t warn you…
Now did you hear an Oxford comma or a semicolon in that rant?