Pencil Tips: A Question of Style

Aug. 1, 2013
No. 2

703-447-8319 / Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com

A Question of Style

I posted a Grammarly photo on my Facebook page last week titled, “10 Signs You’re a Grammar Nerd.” Not surprisingly, a number of my friends hit all 10. As did I. A musician friend, however, was lost on item #6, “You have an opinion on the Oxford comma.”

I am not lost on #6. I do have an opinion on the Oxnard comma and here it is: Use it consistently or consistently don’t use it. It’s not something to mix and match.

I’ll explain.

In a series of three or more listed items, the Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma, is used before the word “and.” Therefore, one would write, “She was blond, petite, and brilliant.”  Without the Oxford comma, it would be written, “She was blond, petite and brilliant.”

Depending on what stylebook you follow, either can be correct. Most mass media outlets follow the Associated Press style and drop the Oxford comma. The Chicago Manual of Style, among others, insists on it. Generally, when I am writing for mass media, I drop the Oxford comma. When I’m writing for anyone else, I include it. My rationale for inclusion is because people who believe in Oxford commas tend to be zealots. They believe if you drop the comma, you will spend an eternity in Hades. Non-Oxfordians, however, tend to be laid back, almost Californian. “If you want to spend the energy for the extra keystroke, dude, hey, knock yourself out.”

If you’re not tied to a stylebook, use it or don’t use it. But be consistent. Several months ago, I edited a brief biography for an award-winning television journalist and weeknight anchor at a Washington, DC, affiliate. The bio writer used Oxford commas in some sentences and not in others.

And that, in my humble nerd opinion, is the only time either is unacceptable.

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Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

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