Dear noble readers and righteous grammarians; dear good people who believe in the sanctity of language; dear all those willing to engage in a knock-down brawl if the cause is just:
We have a plea for you.
Ravishly editors have been waging a war, and we need to mediate a cease-fire before this entire damn enterprise goes down in flames. What we must determine is this: Should we use the Oxford comma, or not?
In the anti camp, we have our editor Nikki Gloudeman; in the pro camp, our editor Kelley Calkins. Here, both make an impassioned case for their side. But ultimately, this is your choice.
Dear readers, the time has come to make a difference. Help us forge a new path forward; sound grammar and peace depend upon it.
The Case AGAINST The Oxford Comma
Recently, my illustrious and otherwise rational colleague Kelley Calkins wrote about her militant commitment to the Oxford comma. It's a well-argued piece with a poignant personal element.
Too bad it's so terribly wrong.
One might say that the Oxford comma is a choice, and that this kind of objective judgment doesn't belong in any grammar debate. But anyone obsessed with grammar knows damn well that when it comes to matters of language, there is only one right way. AND IT IS MINE.
I know my distaste for the Oxford comma makes me something of an outcast—that many smart people, my dear Ms. Calkins included—live and swear by its ostentatious presence. But, to quoteth the great Vampire Weekend: "Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?"
Seriously, where did all this righteous defensiveness come from?
Yes, I understand that at times, the lack of an Oxford comma makes for situations where sentences can be hilariously mis-interpreted—"We hired the strippers, JFK and Stalin" and all that. But 1/ I'd like to trust that our readers have at least a baseline knowledge of a little thing called context (why, Kelley, do you think our readers are such slovenly dimwits?) and 2/ If our readers do happen to read something in an alternate way that's an absolute riot, won't that brighten up their day, which is something we should take pride in?
I also think there's a case to be made for a modicum of flexibility within style guides. If there's a sentence where an Oxford comma really, really helps clarify things, throw it in there in that particular case, then move on. It turns out the grammar police do not have any real authority at the local, state or federal levels.
My main issue with the Oxford comma is how unnecessary and dare I say obscene it appears in lists. Why write "I like sound grammar, being right, and no Oxford commas" when you could instead write "I like sound grammar, being right and no Oxford commas"—without any of the additional clutter? Perhaps it's because I come from a background in magazine writing, where snappy, breezy sentences are favored, but to me, the Oxford comma looks like something that snuck in and doesn't belong—like that guy with beer breath and an obnoxious hipster beard who tries to sidle up next to you and your group of girlfriends at the bar as if it were totally natural and he completely belonged. Please go away, smelly bearded hipster and extra comma. We were having such a nice time until you arrived.
Kelley clearly disagrees—which is why she's been surreptitiously adding the commas back in to stories I've edited them out of, as if I wouldn't notice, as if I were as dumb as an egregious comma. (Our third editor, Katie, doesn't give much of a flying fuck and frankly, I think, would prefer we focus on more important things. As if there is anything more important than this.)
Oxford comma advocates are a willful bunch, and it can be difficult to stand up to them. I ask my fellow anti-Oxford comma warriors to come out of the shadows, and fight. Fight for what it is right. Fight for the goodness of us all.
The Case FOR The Oxford Comma
I could write a literal tome about the value—nay, the invaluable necessity—of the Oxford comma, but what it really boils down to is this: I love and advocate for the Oxford comma because I love justice, I love equality, and I love humanity. And the Oxford comma is undeniably central to all three of these—a trinity of the purest of ideals.
How? Well, one of the oldest and most respected hallmarks of good writing is the adage to “show, not tell.” Ever striving both toward the eradication of injustice and excellence in composition, Iet me proceed with an example that, yes, hails from my esteemed colleague and current battle royale competitor’s own oeuvre. I’ve already conceded, in my previous ode to the Oxford comma, that I’ve been combing my coeditors’ work for serial comma-related infractions. And yes, this does seem untoward and petty, but you can’t make an omelet without cracking a few eggs, and we are in the pursuit of justice here. In that vein, with a hand held over my equity-loving heart, I offer up the following:
Nikki, you wrote in an otherwise engaging piece on debates in grammar, presumably by your own hand and under no threat of coercion, that the pro-Oxford camp (read: The Enlightened) points to examples such as a book inscription that reads, "This is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God" as support for this hallowed grammatical mark’s usage. Not only did you write those words, your follow-up commentary “What a household that would be to grow up in!” acknowledges the horrifying anarchy of the sentence.
Show, don’t tell. Does this not encompass and convey, well, everything about how crucial the serial comma is!?
It should, but if it does not, we forge on in our pursuit of equality.
You’ll recall, I presume, Nikki, a follow-up conversation we had about this piece. I was gentle (there is a time and place for egg-cracking), civil, but to the point:
“Nikki,” I beseeched, “Can we talk about the elephant in the room? We’re not using the Oxford comma on Ravishly . . .”
You were kind and civil in demeanor when you responded, but I remain shocked by the implicit callousness of your reply, the gist of which, as I recall, was that you'd trust our readers to figure out what was being conveyed by a sentence like the Ayn Rand example. While, to be clear, there’s no group IN THE WORLD I trust more than our readers, why put them through such—or any—pointless mental gymnastics? Why force them to expend unnecessary mental energy detangling prose in a search for meaning—in essence forging a distance between your writing and these brilliant, wonderful, and beautiful people?
As a human being, I am designed to seek closeness with others; there can be no greater connection than the meeting of two souls. And while I may hate planning and love ambiguity in my personal life, in writing it is detrimental to the sacred bond between writer and reader. To not use the serial comma is to willfully build a mote between yourself and those who matter the most in the world: Ravishly’s followers.
Further, as I firmly established at the outset, I am deeply committed to combating any and all forms of injustice and inequality. And to give parts of a sentence more weight than others, to fundamentally deny a noun or an adjective or a phrase a comma that its comrades have—just because it happens to lie closer to a conjunction—is blatantly unequal. It is wrong.
And so we begin where we end, with the purest of pursuits: justice, equality, and honest human connection. As the great Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
By extension, the moral universe bends toward the Oxford comma as its usage is inherently just, and its work—that of binding together bright souls in this dark, brutal, unequal world—is the most critical kind that exists.
So to answer that tired, repetitive Vampire Weekend retort: I give a fuck about the Oxford comma. Because I give a fuck about freedom for all. And I have full faith that Ravishly readers also fall on the right side of history.
Seeing as how our shared obstinance has already resulted in way too much wasted time spent adding, then deleting, then adding back in (etc. etc.) commas into posts, we decided to open this debate up to our readers. That's right: This is your chance to make a meaningful difference in the world. Vote for your pick—"Oxford comma" or "No Oxford comma"—via Facebook, Twitter or the comments section. (Editor's note: This should read "Facebook, Twitter, or the comments section.") (Other editor's note: No it shouldn't.)
The choice with the most "yay"s will be enshrined into our official style guide, where it shall remain for all eternity, and every editor henceforth shall adhere to it without whining or otherwise acting annoying. As for us editors, the loser will have to hire JFK and Stalin impersonator strippers for their next birthday. Or maybe the winner will.
In any case, dear readers: It's your choice. And IT'S ON.