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Jürgen Speaks: Oxford Commas

Hello! Jürgen, here.

Vampire Weekend has a wonderful, catchy song called "Oxford Comma" which starts
Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?
For those of you who aren't grammar Nazis, the "Oxford comma" is that final comma in a list of items separated by commas.
At the grocery story, I bought milk, eggs, flour, cinnamon, and butter.
The one before "and butter."

In most cases, it's a matter of style whether you leave the Oxford comma off or use it. As long as you're consistent within a document, do as you please. It truly doesn't matter. Most of the time.

There are a few rare cases, however, where it changes the entire meaning of the sentence if you leave it out.

For instance, the other night, I went to dinner at Bones with my friend Zach and his parents, who were here in Atlanta and graciously invited me to join them. On the menu was something called a "Mixed Grill." Under the item, the description was given as
A six-ounce fillet, lamb and pheasant sausage.
Those of us at the table talked about whether this was two items
a fillet
a sausage made of both lamb and pheasant
or three items
a fillet
lamb
a sausage made of pheasant
We asked the server, and he said it was three distinct items. I halfway expected him to say, "You know, we get that question a lot," but he didn't. Hmph. Must not be as many grammar Nazis in Atlanta as I thought.

I debated telling the restaurant that they need a comma between "lamb" and "and."

But frankly, it was so good, they can do whatever they want. :)

I just thought it served as a good example why there are occasions when the Oxford comma isn't (or shouldn't be unless you're plying the reader with delicious, melt-in-your mouth fillet mignon, lamb chops, and pheasant sausage with a cherry demi-glace) optional.


Atheists Are People, Too  Antispam  

Comments

( 7 hisses — Hiss at me! )
whitetigertail
Jun. 21st, 2010 07:11 pm (UTC)
for the record
I give a *flip* very much. I refuse to follow all those lazies out there who leave it out *because they can*. I am a perfectionist who delights in the Oxford comma.
oxlahun
Jun. 21st, 2010 07:54 pm (UTC)
My favorite argument for the Oxford comma is the dedication "I would like to thank my parents, God and Ayn Rand."
oneeyeddaruma
Jun. 22nd, 2010 02:55 am (UTC)
...even funnier than just the thought of God and Ayn Rand as a couple is the thought that he took her last name!
siercia
Jun. 21st, 2010 08:06 pm (UTC)
And here I was hoping for a 6 oz sausage made of filet, lamb and pheasant.

Not much of a mix to that grill, however!
dorsai
Jun. 21st, 2010 10:14 pm (UTC)
Huh.

I never knew it had a name, but I had it drilled into me at a young age that one should always use the 'Oxford comma'. I'm otherwise terrible about proper use of commas, but this I am good at. :)

Thinking about it, though, I can see why the comma could be left off on the menu example you provided. As far as I remember, one doesn't use commas for a list of only two items; thus, the presence of the comma indicates that it's a list of more than two items, meaning that the lamb and pheasant aren't cohabiting inside the sausage.
etherial
Jun. 21st, 2010 10:24 pm (UTC)
Massachusetts Pedant Reporting In
'Round here, it's called the Harvard Comma.
kaasirpent
Jun. 21st, 2010 10:26 pm (UTC)
I thought of that, but given the public understanding of grammar in this country...

Let's just say that I didn't feel that I could assume much. :)
( 7 hisses — Hiss at me! )

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