20 April 2009

Grammar Interlude #1

I hate Oxford commas with a fiery passion, and I couldn't begin to tell you why.

Generally, I'm a liberal user of punctuation. I'd usually rather have too many commas than not enough. Still, something about the Oxford comma bothers me. I think it's so ugly, so unnecessary.

Some of you probably haven't the slightest clue as to what I'm talking about. I'll explain. In the following italicized sentence includes a series of three, and, as much as it's going to hurt, I will use an Oxford comma:

I like apples, bananas, and oranges.

The second comma, the one after bananas, is an Oxford comma. I have literally come to blows with someone based on its usage rules.

See, the thing is that the Oxford comma is totally optional. Technically, there's nothing wrong with using it, but there's also nothing wrong with leaving it out.

Let's think about this for a moment.... The word "and," as a conjunction, provides the pause needed in the aforementioned series. Why, then, should we double the pause? It's completely unnecessary to define that understood pause.

Now, let's look at a time when both a conjunction and a comma are used:

I love singing, and I couldn't live without it.

Is it not true that in the absence of the second "I" in that sentence, the comma would be incorrect? When joining an independent clause and a dependent one, a comma isn't needed if you have a conjunction. If you are given two independent clauses, like in the example above, you need more than a comma can provide. You can either add a conjunction or use a semicolon or dash instead.

What does all of this have to do with my hatred of the Oxford comma? Plenty, I've noticed. You see, in the first example above, all of the items in that series are entirely dependent. Without the rest of the sentence, "banana" means nothing. Therefore, since "and" is being used as a conjunction, the Oxford comma is obsolete.

Damn, it feels good to be a gangsta.