That’s right. As an English and journalism major, I have a devout belief in the importance of the Oxford comma. I am here to explain why the Oxford comma should never be disregarded, even in journalism.
Let’s start out with the facts. Yes, the Oxford comma is completely optional. But is it actually? I say no. While certain writing formats have their own rules about the inclusion of the Oxford comma, English grammar doesn’t require or reject its use.
Journalism is one vein of writing that frowns upon the Oxford comma. As a new journalism student, I am faced with a conundrum. I have been attempting to train myself to erase the robotic habit of the comma’s use from my writing. Enough is enough. The blasphemy must end.
There is a classic excuse that journalists use to commit the abhorrent crime of omitting the Oxford comma — it slows the flow of the story. We all know that journalism needs to be quick and sharp.
“Extra, Extra, read all about it! Armed robber at downtown jewelry store breaks in, holds hostages and steals millions.” Breaking news should slap readers in the face with a stinging blow. There is no time for a comma. However, let me explain why a little comma is worth all the time in the world.
Let’s think about clarity. News must be accurate. As our lovely journalism professor, Janet Blank-Libra says, there must be “reportage under everything.”
It is a journalist’s responsibility to report the facts. Without the Oxford comma, facts can easily become warped.
Look at an example: “For breakfast I had eggs, toast and orange juice.” Without the extra comma, it looks like I am telling toast and orange juice that I ate eggs. To avoid making people believe that I talk to my food, all I have to do is add one little mark.
Maybe the thought of being seen as someone who talks to their food doesn’t scare people enough. So, I’ll present another example from a real news source called Sky News. This article from 2013 was titled “Top stories: World leaders at Mandela tribute, Obama-Castro handshake and same-sex marriage date set.” Here it is clear to see just how powerful the Oxford comma is in journalism. Originally, these were three items.
However, since the Oxford comma was abused, this article turned into a sweet but somewhat nontraditional wedding announcement. It seems like an unlikely pairing, but hey, I’m not judging them. I’m only judging people who refuse to believe in the importance of the Oxford comma.
Now let’s go back all the way to the beginning. If anyone is still against the Oxford comma, let me guess what they are saying. “Change the sentence structure so it makes sense without the commas.”
Ok, I’ll try it. “For breakfast I had eggs with toast and orange juice.” Sure, maybe that new sentence omits the Oxford comma and clarifies that I eat my breakfast without talking to it. However, what takes up more unnecessary time and space: “With” or “ , ” ? Point made.
While I might be forced to give up the Oxford comma in my future journalism pursuits, there will always be a place for it in my heart. However, if it is a journalist’s job to report the truth, then the Oxford comma IS necessary.
The tiny comma adds clarity in a way that saves time and space while avoiding embarrassing mishaps. There must be justice for the Oxford comma. The fight is not over. Don’t wait. Punctuate.