Do We Need The Oxford Comma? Here Are 9 Hilarious Real-World Examples

Do you call it the serial comma or the Oxford comma?

There is a ferocious grammatical debate over whether a comma should go before the final conjunction in a series of three or more elements. It is the difference between “Bring hot glue, an icepick and a hairnet” and “Bring hot glue, an icepick, and a hairnet.” (Note: we have no idea what’s about to go down for the person saying this sentence.)

This special comma is known as the serial comma or, sometimes, the Oxford comma. If you are at all familiar with Vampire Weekend, you know they aren’t fans of this punctuation mark. But we here at Dictionary.com, and other proponents like us, happen to like this little comma (sorry, Vampire Weekend). For us, this mighty comma is a much-appreciated tool in our never-ending quest to convey meaning as clearly as possible.

Still not convinced? Take a look at these hilarious examples of real-world sentences that are sorely missing a serial comma.

"Rachael Ray finds inspiration in cooking her family and her dog"

OK, this freewheeling headline forgoes all punctuation ... and may just prove the point that commas in general are needed, but technically it is missing a serial comma, too!

The result is a troubling scenario: Rachael Ray’s family and dog are on the dinner table, presumably garnished with parsley.

"World leaders at Mandela tribute, Obama-Castro handshake and same-sex marriage date set... "

According to this news headline, it was a whirlwind romance.  

" ... an overworked employee at the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children."

In this example from the Pottermore website, we see that the serial comma would have helped clarify Harry Potter's conundrum.

The show must NOT go on if Harry is both Papa and Hubby to his kids. That's a twisted plot line we didn't see coming.

" ... Catherine holding her daughter and the Queen."

The lack of a serial comma in this photo caption presents two possible interpretations (both befuddling): Catherine is holding both her daughter and the Queen, two separate entities that are competing for lap space, or Catherine is holding her daughter who happens to be the Queen!

Surprise, Elizabeth!

"We went caroling with our dogs, grandma and grandpa."

Sometimes when a serial comma is not used, the elements following the first comma can appear to be elaborations of the first element.

This illustration is from a video by the ad agency Muhtayzik Hoffer calling for the use of serial commas. Without them, Gram and Gramps seem like dog grandpawents (groan). Maybe there’s some crazy canine genes in this family?

 

Another place where dogs have curiously popped up is in America's favorite summertime food, the hot dog. Do you know where the name hot dog came from?

" ... Merle Haggard's two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall."

This oft-cited example implies that country music legend Merle Haggard was once married to the lead of the 1970s version of A Star is Born (Kristofferson) and the consigliere to the most famous mafia family of the big screen, the Corleones (Duvall). That's an intriguing love triangle.

The sentence appears to have come from a caption in a newspaper describing a movie about Haggard's life.

" ... Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector."

The missing serial comma here turns one of the most courageous, inspirational world leaders into an ancient hocus-pocus character with an, er, interesting hobby. 

Not to Nelson Mandela! Never to Nelson Mandela!

" ... his terminally pubescent best friends, a drug dealer and a male sheep ... "

Now, this film should be interesting. A man’s “pubescent best friends” are a drug dealer and a male sheep? Finding a tux will be a breeze.

When did the groom befriend his best ram?

" ... involves $1000, bringing Christmas to orphans in Uganda and Instagram."

The lack of a serial comma implies that orphans in Instagram are going to receive Christmas cheer, all thanks to you!

To enter this giveaway, all you need to do is find Instagram on a map.

 

Hopefully these examples have given you some laughs as well as a lot to think about regarding the controversial punctuation mark. Maybe it even has inspired you to revisit the many ways to use a comma? 

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