Throughout my 12 years of schooling in Singapore, I was always taught the importance of using the Oxford comma. In fact, my English Literature professor insisted that we use the Oxford comma diligently in all our essays, and if not, we would get points deducted. For this reason, I never really knew that the use of an Oxford comma was so heavily contested, until I heard the aptly titled song by Vampire Weekend.
It begged the question: Who actually cares about the Oxford comma? Not too many people, apparently.
During my first day pitching for The Daily Free Press back in freshman year, I was taught to omit the debated comma for all of my blogs. I’m certain that my editors over the years can attest that they’ve still had to manually delete the Oxford comma from several of my submissions. The use of the Oxford comma comes naturally to me; it has been ingrained into my writing style.
I enjoy the clarity that the Oxford comma brings to the table, and while I find the hatred toward it a bit unwarranted, I still understand why multiple media outlets and publications choose not to use it in their articles. However, a recent Maine court case that ruled in favor of Maine truckers needing to use the Oxford comma in their guide book proves that the comma does have its place in grammar, especially when it comes to legal issues. A group of dairy drivers argued that they merited overtime pay for certain tasks that they had accomplished. Due to the lack of an Oxford comma in the latter half of the following statement: “the canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of …,” there was some ambiguity in whether distribution was its own activity or not. The lawyers were able to argue and win the case for the drivers based on the confusing language of the handbook.
While this case is certainly a one-off, I can understand the argument that it’s best to use the Oxford comma to avoid ambiguous language. People need not feel bad about omitting the comma when listing simple items in an essay. Then again, people need not be teased for ardently using the comma either. Ultimately, for consistency’s sake, the use of the Oxford comma should be made clear.