Comma-tose: An argument against the Oxford comma

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Editor's note: According to The Tartan style guide, we use the Oxford comma. This article has caused quite a stir in the office.

I want to thank my parents, Tom Brady and Jimmy Fallon. A sentence which obviously implies that my parents are a world famous quarterback and a talk show host, right? It’s grammatically incorrect, and it’s definitely something that needs to be criticized. Any reader would quickly assume that I was the progeny of two world famous people.

No. No they wouldn’t. That’s the obvious issue of the Oxford comma. It’s just… unnecessary half the time, and for most of the other half, we’re smart enough to figure out we don’t need it. Do I really need to put in a comma so people don’t think I’m Jimmy Fallon’s son? (P.S., Jimmy, if you see this, pay me your child support.) In a lot of written scenarios, the Oxford comma is just a piece of grammar meant to standardize things, but in a language like English, with so little standardization already, why bother?

And that’s not the long and short of it. The Oxford comma has problems when dealing with the one thing it’s supposed to handle — lists!

One of the problems with listing proper nouns next to improper nouns, is that confusion can start. Take a list like the following, "I met the landlady, the pastor, Mr. John, and Ms. Doe." There's a problem here. Is this four people, or is there 'Mr. John' an appositive phrase? Perhaps Mr. John is just a clarification on who the pastor is, but with this comma situation, it's also possible that Mr. John is another person. This is where the Oxford comma fails, it's made the sentence more complicated and harder to read. Here, I'd actually recommend people not use the oxford comma, because it makes things easier to understand.

The Oxford Comma is a tool, not a catchall. It also doesn’t really handle a situation where the latter part of the list is designed to elaborate on the first part of the list. “I am considering traveling to California, San Fran, or LA.” Does that sentence mean I’m planning on going to either California OR San Fran OR LA, or should I drop the comma and say I’m planning on traveling to San Fran OR LA in California? The Oxford comma is a small part of a language that is incredibly complicated, a small piece of linguistics that can be useful, but shouldn’t be considered the standard. We can decipher when we need to use the comma, versus when the reader can figure out that the list is not self descriptive.

The Author is begging his friends, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk to help him pay for college.