[The Angry Grammarian] Comma sutra

Out, out damn squiggle!

Jeffrey Barg

What's your position on the Oxford comma?

Atrocious. It can be blamed for illiteracy nationwide.

The Oxford comma—also known as the “Harvard comma” or the “snooty comma”—is the comma that precedes the “and” in a list: “red, white, and blue.”

The comma was a nifty little invention for the world’s first printers, who, as they started putting words down, realized they couldn’t get across what they needed to say with letters alone. They dropped the comma in to show the reader where to pause, and to indicate that “Manny Moe and Jack” were three people, not two.

But the printed word has fallen on hard times since then.

Have you tried reading anything recently? It’s damn near impossible to get through a sentence. The commanists have taken over, bleeding their squiggles all over the page wherever they feel like breathing. And with emissions as bad as they are, breathing is harder to do than ever.

Never mind that the Oxford comma should be banned for its highfalutin preciousness alone. It forces readers to pause where they don’t otherwise have to, and that pause is just one more chance for the reader to get distracted by a gust of wind or a shiny object or an American Apparel ad, and stop reading whatever you’ve written.

Think of the children! They pause reading, then stop reading, then become illiterate, and soon they’ve dropped out of school, are unemployable, have turned to a life of crime and are coming to your house to rob and kill you. All because you wanted another comma.

And then there are the printing costs. Publications around the country are being bought up and subjected to layoffs, buyouts and cost-slashing by eye-gouging, money-hungry journo-fascists (hello, Rupert Murdoch!), and your excess commas require valuable, costly ink to print. When the free press doesn’t have money to print, the country crumbles.

Doing away with the Oxford comma isn’t just good for battling elitism; it saves our democracy. Do it for the red, white and blue.

This week in the Angry Grammarian podcast, a musical solution to this Oxfordian menace: “Comma Police,” by AG and the Ellipses. Subscribe free at

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