Oxford comma


noun

a comma between the final items in a list, often preceding the word `and' or `or', such as the final comma in the list newspapers, magazines, and books

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Word Origin for Oxford comma

C20: because it was traditionally a feature of the house style at Oxford University Press
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

HOMEWORK HELP

What does Oxford comma mean?

The Oxford comma is an optional comma added before and or or in a list of three or more things (e.g., one, two, and three vs. one, two and three).

People have … a lot of feelings about whether or not to use it.

How is Oxford comma pronounced?

[ oks-ferd komuh ]

Where does Oxford comma come from?

The Oxford comma takes its name from its use as house style at the Oxford University Press (OUP) in Oxford, England since 1978. Harvard University Press also insists on the comma in its materials, so the punctuation is sometimes known as the Harvard comma stateside.

The point of the comma is to reduce ambiguity in a series, the absence of which can lead to some amusing situations (e.g., Top stories: World leaders at Mandela tribute, Obama-Castro handshake and same-sex marriage date set …). Enough said.

Technically, the Oxford comma is optional in English. The Chicago Manual of Style and, of course, the Oxford Style Manual, require the Oxford comma in lists of three or more things. Others, like the Associated Press Stylebook and The New York Times, nix it because they see it as extraneous. Yet others, like The Guardian Style Guide, recommend the Oxford comma only when it clears up a potential confusion. Some non-English-language writing conventions also get rid of the Oxford comma, like French.

How is Oxford comma used in real life?

Whether or not to use the Oxford comma is the subject of heated debate—at least among us style and grammar nerds. Rockers Vampire Weekend flashed their prep-school cred in their 2008 song, “Oxford Comma.” In it, they ask “Who gives a f*** about an Oxford comma?” The answer, apparently, is just about everyone.

While it might be optional, not using the Oxford comma has sometimes had serious consequences. Because an Oxford comma was lacking from a Maine law, a dairy lost a case and had to pay out a $5 million settlement to its employees. The judge David J. Barron noted, “For want of a comma, we have this case.”

It said:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

(1) Agricultural produce;

(2) Meat and fish products; and

(3) Perishable foods.

More examples of Oxford comma:

“If your boss hates the oxford comma, then for goodness sake, drop the oxford comma.”
—Roger Dean Duncan, Forbes, May, 2018

Note

This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.