NEW YORK — To comma, or not to comma? That is the question.
The simple, tiny comma can spell the difference between crystal clarity, and quicksandy quagmire. While Oxford dons promote the former, Associated Press editors perpetrate the latter.
The Oxford Comma appears after every item in a list. The rock band Vampire Weekend lampooned it in 2008 on their otherwise excellent, eponymous, debut album, However, in 2004, Lynne Truss (author of international best-seller Eats, Shoots & Leaves) correctly elevated the O.C. atop a pedestal as tall as the Tower of London, home of Great Britain’s crown jewels and a worthy symbol of the King’s English.
This sentence illustrates the Oxford Comma’s infinite value:
“Musician Walter Thunderbolt identified his chief inspirations as his brothers, Liberace, and Sting.”
How interesting: Mr. Thunderbolt’s music reflects his siblings’ artistry, Liberace’s flamboyant piano style, and the New Wave/rock sound of Sting. I can’t wait to give him a listen!
The Associated Press, in aggravating contrast, insists on removing the final comma in lists. For no explicable reason, the AP would present the same sentence as follows:
“Musician Walter Thunderbolt identified his chief inspirations as his brothers, Liberace and Sting.”
Wow! I had no idea that Walter was related to Liberace and Sting, or that those three shared parents. So, Liberace’s name was Liberace Thunderbolt? I never knew that.
Imagination aside, and fresh from the real world, here is a perfect example of why, at least on commas, the AP Stylebook should be shelved, and the Oxford Comma should be as ubiquitous as nitrogen in Earth’s atmosphere.
Henry Olsen wrote this yesterday for The Washington Post, regarding Oren Cass’ website, American Compass.
[Martin] Luther and the other reformers sought to return Christianity to its purer roots. Cass and his merry band of brothers and sisters seek to do the same for American conservatism, and other essays on the site show how the roots of American conservatism go much further back in time than William F. Buckley Jr.’s founding of National Review. Wells King’s essay, for example, finds them in the ideas of Alexander Hamilton, Clay and Abraham Lincoln, and one could also find them in the principles of men of more recent vintage such as Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.
Who is Clay Lincoln? Is that Abraham’s brother? Father? Uncle? Funny, I never had heard of Clay and Abraham Lincoln. Maybe they wrote together, like cineastes Joel and Ethan Coen or the late, great economists Rose and Milton Friedman. I should look for their books, or at least their articles.
See what total, utter confusion AP Style creates? Pandemonium!
Now, look how efficiently the Oxford Comma erases this misunderstanding disappear:
Wells King’s essay, for example, finds them in the ideas of Alexander Hamilton, Clay, and Abraham Lincoln, and one could also find them in the principles of men of more recent vintage such as Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.
Ah, Clay is not related to Lincoln. Hmmm. Perhaps the author refers to Henry Clay. Yes, that’s it! I should delve more deeply into the conservative ideas of Henry Clay.
As chronicled in an article at The Walrus titled “Keep Comma and Carry On,” a British newspaper editor generated the most startling evidence for why the Oxford Comma should be coronated, and the AP Stylebook should be beheaded at the Tower of London — at least on this matter. A TV listing once used this shocking language to entice viewers to watch an upcoming program:
By train, plane and sedan chair, Peter Ustinov retraces a journey made by Mark Twain a century ago. The highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector.
So, it turns out that the man who peacefully led South Africa out of apartheid was much older and far naughtier than he looked.
While the Oxford Comma clarifies like the high-noon Sun, AP Style on commas recalls the haze that rolls in at dusk and leaves people disoriented and desperate in the darkening mist.
The Associated Press should abandon its fog factory and embrace the cloud-cutting rays of the Oxford Comma.
Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News Contributor, a contributing editor with National Review Online, and a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research.