I’m trying really hard not to become a grammar Nazi – one of those people who pick apart every last paragraph, sentence, word, letter and comma of other people’s speech and writing. Lately, however, I’m finding out just how important good grammar can be, especially if it is not used correctly.
I was never really that concerned with something called the Oxford Comma. In my 9th blog article entitled “Comma Placement,” the very first rule I presented was that every item in a list must be followed by a comma, including the comma right before the word “and.”
At the time, I did not realize that this last comma was referred to as “The Oxford Comma.” I have always believed that its use was part of proper grammar and that it should not be omitted, although I didn’t have a concrete reason as to why.
I recently came across two examples of why the Oxford Comma is important, or rather why its omission can cause confusion.
“We had a party and without telling me, my brother invited strippers, Obama and Romney.”
Hmmm. I guess that means that the presidential candidates have decided to take their careers in a completely different direction. Unless, of course, there are, coincidentally enough, a couple of strippers whose names just happen to be Obama and Romney.
Or maybe …
“We had a party and without telling me, my brother invited strippers, Obama, and Romney.”
That last comma which appears immediately after Obama can make the difference between inviting some strippers, and President Obama, and Mitt Romney … or inviting a couple of strippers named Obama and Romney.
Here is another example:
“The morning show interviewed Nelson Mandela, a porn star and gourmet chef.”
I don’t know whether Nelson Mandela was ever a gourmet chef, but I’m pretty sure he was never a porn star. Less ambiguity and a clearer intention of thought can be achieved by use of the Oxford comma as follows.
“The morning show interviewed Nelson Mandela, a porn star, and a gourmet chef.”
Not only does the Oxford Comma prevent ambiguity and miscommunication, it can also prevent embarrassing misinformation from being passed along. Keep your writing clear, accurate and professional by making use of the Oxford Comma.