Oxford Comma: The Lazy Writer’s Tool

Oxford Comma


The Oxford comma (a.k.a. the Harvard comma, the serial comma or the series comma) is just lazy writing.

I, personally, love commas and overuse them. They are included in my text as parts of speech like a noun or a verb. I also overly use ellipses… but that is another blog topic. However, I abhor the use of the Oxford comma.

The Oxford comma is lazy. Which is no surprise when you realize that America is the majority stakeholder in writing styles that include it. Americans are lazy, I know, I am one. We shorten everything to make our lives easier. Names, for example. Robert becomes Bob, Rachel becomes Rach. We are obsessed with anything that makes our daily life quicker, easier and less intuitive.

It is no wonder then, that near every writing style demands the use of the series comma. Chicago Manual of Style, the APA and MLA styles, even down to Old Mr. Stunk himself–all mandate the use of the lazy ass comma.

It is no wonder then, that near every writing style demands the use of the series comma. Click To Tweet

Why? Is it that hard to write a complex sentence without confusion? Let’s look at some of my favorite examples:

Internet Examples

If you have a look around the Internet they will tell you why you should use the lazy comma. They even offer poor examples for proof. Here is one:

“To my parents, Mother Theresa and the Pope.”

Now, an uneducated member of the population might for one instance think “Hey! Are his parents really Mother Theresa and the Pope?” Firstly, think about what you are saying: A child, born from the two most abstinent beings in existence. Yes, genius, those are his parents. Secondly: you’re an idiot.

How to solve: One, stop relying on the intelligence of your readers. Second, if it is a problem, make an effort to rewrite the sentence: To the Pope, Mother Theresa and my parents. Boy, that was tough.

Or this example that still confuses me:

“I had eggs, toast and orange juice.”

The confusion here is where to group the toast; with the orange juice? Firstly, it’s fucking breakfast, mate. It’s all going in the same face hole. It’s not individually wrapped for your convenience. So does it really matter? Okay, aside from the physical grouping, some idiots (they even made pictures) put orange juice on toast and left the eggs aside.

Oxford Comma Meme
This image was stolen from Verbicide Magazine

My argument here: What if I didn’t have eggs? Just orange juice and toast? By only having two items I am not required by any style to have a comma at all. Just plain “orange juice and toast” without a comma. By saying that, are you still convinced I put orange juice on my toast? No. You aren’t. So why then are you suddenly confused when I add a third item to my plate with a comma? (Hint: it rhymes with schmoron)

The solution.

Step one: Stop being pedantic. Second: Rewrite the sentence. “I had orange juice, eggs and toast.” I know. Mind. Blown. This works because mental midgets accept eggs on toast as acceptable.

One thing nay-sayers (the lazy lot) will argue is ambiguity. Does a single comma added or omitted clear up ambiguity? Let’s have a look:

Clearing Up The Unclear

If a sentence about breakfast foods is too hard to understand, you really should turn off the damn computer. Just a suggestion. You probably have homework to complete.

For the sake of thoroughness, let’s have a look:

Those that must use the Oxford comma will say that without it, your sentence is open to interpretation. Like the breakfast example, some moron will scratch his balding head and think, “where does the OJ go?”

Since this will cause many sleepless nights for the poor bastard, let’s get one thing straight: If your reader is confused, adding another comma won’t fix it. Here, look–

let's get one thing straight: If your reader is confused, adding another comma won't fix it. #copywriting Click To Tweet

My breakfast was coffee, bacon and eggs, and toast. Is that so much more clear to you than this one:

My breakfast was coffee, bacon and eggs and toast. No. It isn’t.

Because those that look at the second example and wonder where the eggs go will also wonder if the ‘bacon and eggs’ portion means they are one item. Yes, I regularly stuff bacon full of eggs before cooking.

The correct solution is thus: My breakfast was coffee, bacon, eggs and toast.

Or this example from The Times: “highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector”.

So, is this clear? No. Will another comma help clear it up? No.

The whole sentence is a disaster.

Let’s start with the obvious. Mandela was not an 800-year-old demigod. Nor was he (I am assuming here) a dildo collector. Dildos collected around him, but that’s another story entirely.

You aren’t fixing this with a lazy ass Oxford comma. See: “highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod, and a dildo collector.”

Know why this doesn’t work? Because those confused with their fall back for lazy writing will still think that maybe Mandela is an 800-year-old demigod.

There should also be a colon after include. A semi-colon or two, and a complete rewrite, really.

Even the Oxford Dictionary says the Oxford comma is optional. I say it should be outlawed. Stop being a lazy writer, and make sentences that stand on their own without the reliance on silly punctuation to clarify your words for readers.

Or, alternatively, hire a copywriter that knows what he is doing.



What do you have to say?