Grouchy Grammarians, or How I Learned to Love the Oxford Comma
Let me be right up front about it. I am a devotee of the Oxford comma (aka penultimate comma).
For those who are too young to remember such things as parsing (diagramming) sentences, the Oxford comma is the comma that precedes and sets off the final term in a series (e.g., cars, boats, and planes). Its primary purpose is to herald the end of the series but, like all commas, it is to give the reader or speaker a chance to pause and catch one’s breath.
I am aware that many people these days are dropping the use of the Oxford comma. I do understand their reasoning, but I disagree with it. Written English, as opposed to spoken English (which is much more colloquial) is formal for a reason: to encourage clear, concise communication. It also demands of its users a clarity of thought and expression that I find admirable.
Further, the Oxford comma is what I grew up with. It’s that simple. When I was in school, rules about written English were much stricter, and they were generally reinforced by our reading of quality literature (once the basics were mastered). The rules we learned gave shape and rhythm to what we read. It’s why I fell in love with language at an early age.
Can good books be written without the Oxford comma? Certainly. I’ve read stories that were compelling regardless of how grammatical (or not) they were.
Do I look down on those who don’t use it? No. Language changes and evolves, and I am well aware of it. Heck, I use the occasional neologism myself. However, the form of American English I am most comfortable with is the form I learned growing up: Mid 1950s American Standard English, as taught in New York City public schools.
Is it the only acceptable form of English? No, but it was designed to give the majority of people a common form of communication, thereby minimizing misunderstandings.
Therefore, I will continue to support the Oxford comma — as do many of my friends and acquaintances — even as I sadly acknowledge its passing from common usage.