-Q Mark Twain, world-renowned American author and a darling of the historical literary scene once said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” This mantra still holds true through the centuries and crosses all style guides and genres. If one can say their piece in a more concise manner, than one should.
The serial comma, known as the Oxford Comma in many literary circles, is utilized to promote said brevity. They are primarily placed before a coordinating conjunction in a series of three or more items to further clarify the given statement. This mystical piece of punctuation is oft utilized to prevent ambiguity in writing. While many classic examples have circulated, I will provide my own for the sake of original content awareness:
“I love my family, ‘Game of Thrones’ and GoGo Squeez Applesauce packets.”
Now, without the Oxford Comma, this sentence reads as if my family literally consists of a best-selling book series and/or television show, as well as the world-famous portable applesauce packets. While many might wish this was their family, my intention was to describe these as three separate items, rather than two items under the branch of “family.”
Almost all literary style guides not only support, but mandate the use of the serial comma, including: MLA, Chicago Style and APA format. One style guide remains stubborn in the face of unendable opposition: AP Style, the very one used in journalistic writing and by extension The Quad.
Many of our copy editors spend countless minutes and gallons of red ink just to cross out a myriad of serial commas every year. The use of the comma cannot be blamed on the writers; this pesky little curved line has become entrenched in most modern literary circles, so much so that it has become part of written culture. What can we do as an editorial board to fight against the unending tide of these little lines? Our hands are tied by the strict ink of AP Style, cast between a stylebook and a hard place. We cannot change culture, but we can call to change AP Style.
I call upon the AP Style Guide to change their ink-clad rules and to obey the movements of culture. Do not picture this as giving up, but rather embracing progress and innovation. After all, if the Oxford Comma’s primary role is to promote brevity, should we not utilize this in journalistic writing? Is this not our purpose?
My dear readers, until we can conduct such a great and mighty change, we must fight from the inside. My call to you is to keep writing, to write day after day, to insert your voice into the journalistic scene. This change can only come from the inside; progress will be slow, yet constantly forward-moving.
I would like to dedicate this call to action to my editorial board, English voice actor, Tim Curry, and the main villain of D2: The Mighty Ducks 2. Of course, this is not literally my editorial board, but you would be able to recognize this if I was allowed to use the Oxford Comma.
For further information, please listen to “Oxford Comma,” by Vampire Weekend.
Mahks Juh-Mees was a student, and then he began his transcendentalist journey into the Appalachian. Some say he still travels the South Campus trails, searching for leaves that look like oxford commas. His destiny is tied to the persistent punctuation. You can find him by ✉ whispering to the moon on Tuesdays in November.