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Oxford Comma? Americans Still Unsure, Hostile, and Divided

    June 18, 2014
    Josh Wolford
    Comments are off for this post.

Here’s the thing about the Oxford comma – it’s optional, highly debated, and ultimately unnecessary. I mean, I use it – I’m not some Oxford comma-denying lunatic who doesn’t understand how the party with strippers, JFK and Stalin is confusing, while the party with strippers, JFK, and Stalin is not confusing (I know there are plenty of examples from the other side, don’t bother).

To me, the Oxford comma provides clarity in the murky world of the English language. You might disagree but if you do, you’re currently in the minority according to a new poll.

FiveThirtyEight’s Data Lab polled over 1,100 Americans about the Oxford comma. They asked a simple question:

Is it “It’s important for a person to be honest, kind and loyal,” or “It’s important for a person to be honest, kind, and loyal.”

And 57 percent chose the latter. That’s a pretty large margin in some arenas, but it does little in this debate except to reaffirm that the country is divided. There’s a comma civil war.

But here’s the truly interesting part of FiveThirtyEight’s poll –

Ah, so the more of a smug asshole you are about your writing skills, the more likely you are to prefer the Oxford comma.

That may be true, but a majority of those polled supported it. Listen, there’s really no settling this debate. Sure, the Oxford comma is important, preferred by more style books, and ultimately correct. You can go on with your life, forsaking the Oxford comma all you want – and you have every right to, especially when a major style book advocates your side of the argument. I won’t throw shade over some silly punctuation. Ultimately, who gives a f*ck about an Oxford comma?

Oh, ok.

Oh, ok.

So let’s not argue. Let’s just agree that for writing to be good, it needs to be clear, concise and consistent.

Images via FiveThirtyEight, J E Smith (Flickr Creative Commons)


  • Jorge

    The study would be more compelling were it to have included a more objective measure of each subject’s grammatical abilities. It would also help to know each subject’s training because journalists (for example) get the terminal serial comma beaten out of them at an early age.