Whenever erosions of the language like this with the
Oxford comma occur, I am reminded of George Orwell's essay on the
English language in which he remarks that language does not reflect
culture, "language is culture." The laxity with
which people write and speech is deplorable, only exceeded by
behaviors and weak thinking. In more years English may
well become Orwell's Newspeak since, to use a phrase
we teachers here, "Well, you know what I mean, anyway."
Frankly, I am perplexed why it is considered
beneficial that English has no Academie that
maintains standards for the language. English could use such
an organization as well as having been established as the National
Language centuries ago.
Now isn't this interesting: "Whenever erosions of the
language like this with the Oxford comma ...." British English
grammarians might rather say "Whenever American English users
finally reinstate proper English usage ...."
Though it is the Oxford comma, the staunch and continued
contemporary use of it is a feature of American English (I think it
is safe to say "only" though I have not done a survey of all the
varieties of British English around the world). British English has
and American publishers have (a good many though perhaps not all)
dropped it for ever so long now.
One of my favorite online punctuation experts, Larry Trask,
associated with University of Sussex, UK, has this to say about
"the listing comma":
The Listing Comma
The listing comma is used as a kind of substitute
for the word and, or sometimes for or. ...
Note also that it is not usual in British usage to put a listing
comma before the word and or or itself (though
American usage regularly puts one there). So, in
British usage, it is not usual to write
The Three Musketeers were Athos, Porthos, and
This is reasonable, since the listing comma is a
substitute for the word and, not an
addition to it.
Although, contributing to the argument for clarity, Trask does
concur with the need for a final "comma and" when clarity
is clearly at stake:
However, you should put a comma in this position if doing so
would make your meaning clearer:
My favourite opera composers are Verdi, Puccini,
Mozart, and Gilbert and Sullivan.
Here the comma before and shows clearly that Gilbert and
Sullivan worked together. If you omit the comma, the result might
be confusing ... The extra comma removes the problem.
The sticky wicket here might be: Will the British and Americans
agree upon what listing situations clearly
require the end listing comma? Thanks to good ol'
Webster, one has one's doubts.
I say, wave fare thee well to the listing / serial / Oxford
comma except as demarcated by Trask. Which rule also solves the
"consistency" question: May I use the Oxford comma in
this list while having not used it in all
the foregoing lists? Answer: Yep!
Thanks everyone for the fun thread!