The Oxford Comma

(Jolin) #1

Following on from the previous discussion about the Oxford Comma (and not wanting to further derail the Starling thread):

I saw the following article today. Apparently, an Oxford comma can be worth $5 million!


The Oxford comma, it seems, is favoured by Americans.

With the advent of the internet and instant, worldwide communication, I’ve found that some Americans are fervent supporters of the Oxford comma.

Some insist on it all the time. They quote one of many internet memes to justify their stance.

The fact of the matter is that:

• The Oxford comma is not taught in UK schools
• The Oxford comma can, sometimes, help with clarity
• The Oxford comma is often superfluous had the sentence originally been written more clearly to avoid ambiguity


Commas for lists are taught in Year 2 and you are correct. Children in the UK schools would be taught specifically not to do it in the Oxford Comma style.

(Eve) #4

UK universities insist on oxford commas, actually. Schools back home use the British education system so I never used oxford commas until I got to uni and they insisted on it for clarity. We sometimes use oxford spelling too, which I dislike but it is not enforced.

(Peter Roberts) #5

My university never insisted on any particular writing style. Except for one particular lecturer who IMO arbitrarily valued writing in ways that I think make things harder to understand!


They do?

All of them?

Mine didn’t.

Seems to be at odds with what is taught in primary and secondary education.

As I said, the Oxford comma can sometimes assist clarity. I’m happy to use it if that’s the case. I don’t accept the dogmatic and inflexible view of some that it must be used without fail.

As I also said, sentences can often be written less ambiguously so as to avoid the need for an Oxford comma, anyway.


Attended a leading UK university. Can confirm the Oxford comma was not mentioned once. How to correctly cite references on the other hand…

Things change, nevertheless, so it’s possible this is now a thing.

(Allie) #8

Oxford spelling is horrendous. The Oxford comma? That can go either way, and I see both arguments. I occasionally use it, only if needed to clarify a sentence.

Oxford spelling though? I hate it! It looks so harsh. That said, Monzo does use Oxford spelling in some places, sadly. I was at their last Open Office and there was Oxford spelling all over the slides.


I reread my old BA History essay writing guide (the MHRA Style Guide) and it does mention doing it the Oxford way. I wasn’t taught this in all my education or at university, it was just expected from reading the style guide. Shame I never did my commas the way of the style guide as I only bothered to read the part about footnotes and references :grin:.

MHRA Style Guide:

c) In an enumeration of three or more items, the practice in MHRA journals is to insert commas after all but the last item, to give equal weight to each enumerated element:

The University has departments of French, German, Spanish, and Portuguese within its Faculty of Arts.

The conjunctions and and or without a preceding comma are understood as linking the parts of a single enumerated element:

The University has departments of French, German, Spanish and Portuguese, Czech and Polish, and Dutch.

Comedians such as Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, or Charlie Chaplin.

(Jolin) #10

That’s a great description of the logic and usefulness of the Oxford comma. :grin:


I’m still trying to understand the involvement of early 20th Century silent film heroes the various language departments of the university. :thinking:

(Eve) #12

I’m doing a degree in English Lit and American Studies, so maybe it’s more important to pin down a system than a science or tech course.

I think some words arguably look nicer with a z (or maybe I’ve been conditioned to think so). Eg cozy, globalization

(Eve) #13

I got used to APA 6th in undergrad and switching to MRHA in masters is killing me. My last essay had 1k in footnotes! Dislike it :weary:

(Allie) #14

It’s definitely personal preference. I just cringed seeing ‘authorize’ on Monzo’s slides.

Question that you might know, though, is cozy (which I’ll agree, I do like that one) an Oxford spelling in the technical sense, or is it simply a chance American vs British thing? Since it isn’t an -ise word, I didn’t think it was one of the ones Oxford zedified, but I have no idea.


With this I am in total agreement.

I understand that American spelling is different to British English. It does seem to be fashionable in some quarters to adopt the American way. I think that’s a shame.


Or the American English cultural influence on British people to the point they just do it the American way because that’s how they read it on TV or the internet.

I remember a few years back having a very large debate with a clever 7 year old in my class about the name Ladybirds. She was very adamant they were called Ladybugs and would stubbornly refuse to acknowledge them any other way.

I had the opposite issue, switching from MHRA at undergrad to APA in postgrad. In the end I think I did it like MHRA slightly changed to make it look like APA.


Not that clever, then :wink:


One child told me ladybirds are the female ones and ladybugs the male ones (or both the male and female I can’t remember which) which I thought a bit odd. It certainly confuses kids if they hear proper English and get corrupted by the infiltration of American English.


We need a official language purity commission like the French have. We could then control what books are used in schools and limit the proportion of American language material on TV :wink:

(Allie) #20

You do realise it isn’t American, right? It’s Oxford spelling, which is fashionable in America. But the Americans can’t claim it :slight_smile:

It would just result in the opposite, tons of American TV (especially kids TV) is actually Canadian because Canada has rules like this - so called CanCon rules. Well, you know what, broadcasters meet the proportion by producing tons of (mostly children’s) TV in Canada to air.

Now, granted, without CanCon the world may never have had Degrassi, but still, I generally oppose such rules.