The Reckoner!

The Oxford Comma! Do you dare use it?

The Official Significant Other of The Reckoner has been watching a lot of Inspector Lewis recently.  Inspector Lewis is, of course, a British show that suggests that Oxford is a cesspool of danger and murder matched only by wherever Angela Lansbury happens to be in an episode of Murder She Wrote.

This got me thinking about Oxford's most famous export.  No, not Andew Lloyd-Webber.  The Oxford Comma.  That pesky little comma that crops up before an 'and' when you're listing things out in a sentence.  Let's take a look at a couple of cases, shall we?

  • With Oxford Comma

    Give me one burbon, one scotch, and one beer.  ( -- G. Thorogood & The Destroyers)
  • Without Oxford Comma

    Give me one burbon, one scotch and one beer.  ( -- G. Thorogood & The Destroyers)

Seems like a waste in this case, doesn't it?  What is the Oxford comma accomplishing that the 'and' can't do on its own?  Dare I say, it seems a bit... snooty.  Wasteful.  Effete.

Now let's take another case:

  • With Oxford Comma

    I dedicate this book to my parents, Angela Lansbury, and God.
  • Without Oxford Comma

    I dedicate this book to my parents, Angela Lansbury and God.

Holy smokes!  Your parents are Angela Lansbury and God!  What is this, Ancient Greece?  God can do that?  Was it an immaculate conception?  Wow, that must be a hell of a book!

In this case, that Oxford comma seems pretty darned helpful.  But here's the thing -- you've got to pick one or the other.  You can't go switching all willy-nilly between the two in your article -- that way breeds disaster and disgruntled copy-editors.

So which is it, fair Reckonauts?  Where do you fall on Oxford's most famous export?

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My guess is that Inspector Lewis doesn't use the Oxford comma, but I bet his partner Detective Sergeant Hathaway does.


As a college English writing instructor, this question arises a lot when I am reviewing punctuation. There is really no correct answer to this matter.  Some of us were taught to use it before the final "and" in a list and others of us were not... So, it is one of those rules in the English language that can go either way.  BTW: I personally use the Oxford comma..


I use it, and, as your example deftly showed, I get confused when others don't. 


At last, a real question for the Reckoner!  Yes, I use it.  As the examples make clear, sometimes you need it to make the proper distinction, so may as well get in the habit of using it all the time.  It's not a waste of space, it's proper punctuation!


I am beyond shocked at how lopsided this one has been so far.  I would've assumed that this would turn into a dead heat.


Using the comma before "and" is indeed wasteful and serves no purpose. Take note how often...or not it appears in publications.


The Reckoner!