Well, Happy, Safe, and the Oxford Comma

I hesitated for not a second about what the title of this blog should be. Given that Babe’s use of the “well, happy and safe” line was so ubiquitous in his letters, that had to be part of the title somehow.

What was in some doubt was the use of the Oxford, or “serial,” comma. In my circles, feelings run high about whether to use the trailing comma in a series of items before the conjunction “and.”

Should it have been “well, happy and safe” or “well, happy, and safe”?

Babe doesn’t give us much to go on. He uses both. For all the time he spends chiding his younger brother for his grammar and spelling, Babe isn’t very consistent in his own usage — but perhaps as an infantryman scribing letters from overseas in the midst of a war, he can be forgiven.

As I got into journalism, my professors beat the Oxford comma out of me. It wasn’t the preferred style of the Associated Press, and for consistency’s sake (there’s what word again, the whole reason for a style guide in the first place), I stopped using it.

The Business Insider wrote about the issue of the Oxford comma less than a month ago, noting that its editor-in-chief grew up a fan and now requires it in his publication. The argument put forth in the column, however, is that the Oxford comma is overrated and that its use ought to be limited to those times when its presence really does improve the clarity of a sentence.

The writer puts forth, citing examples, that it can as easily decrease a sentence’s clarity in the right context. The column is worth a read, if you haven’t seen it (and especially if you’re an Oxford comma snob).

You can read more about this epic struggle on this Atlantic Wire article about the latest edition of the AP Stylebook. The release in springtime began the debate anew on Twitter, when the new edition stuck to its guns and reinforced its ruling to forego the Oxford comma.

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