Why is Oxford Comma Called so?

As always in English, the most important consideration is not what some authority mandates, but what is clear to the reader.

As always in English, the most important consideration is not what some authority mandates, but what is clear to the reader.

It has been called the Oxford or Harvard comma because those two organizations famously promoted it at a time when newspapers routinely omitted it to save line space.

It is more properly called the serial comma, and most authorities today agree that it should be used in most cases for two very good reasons.

  1. It often resolves, but never creates, ambiguity, and therefore is sometimes required.
  2. Consistency promotes readability. If the serial comma is sometimes clearer, then sometimes omitting it is inherently less clear.

There is an exception, naturally. Because English is rather stingy with punctuation, it’s relatively easy to produce sentences muddy with excessive commas. For this reason, many authors believe in omitting commas wherever doing so does not introduce ambiguity—and in many cases in practice, even where it does.

Personally, I take a middle ground. If I cannot reasonably simplify or rewrite my prose to eliminate the need for commas that seem to appear in excess, I may omit some non-ambiguous commas. I’m disinclined ever to omit the serial comma, though, except in very short sentences.

As always in English, the most important consideration is not what some authority mandates, but what is clear to the reader.

Should Oxford comma be eliminated?

(Here is the reply by Rik Levesque who believes “Languages are living things, needful of evolution and constant renewal.”

The thing about English is that there isn’t really an official arbiter of what constitutes proper and / or necessary elements of the language to be decided upon. The OED (Oxford English Dictionary) might be oft-quoted as a reference, but even it merely evaluates what has become common usage or what has fallen asunder in speakers’ common practice.

Unlike the Académie Française, which regulates French in a scholarly but essentially dictatorial manner, what gets left in, adopted or dropped from English is mostly a matter of what people do with it. While I might personally deplore the disappearance of THE(E) and AN preceding words starting with vowels or vowel sounds, I know intellectually that when even young, well-educated people around me say “a” aeroplane instead of AN aeroplane or THUH ocean rather than THE(E) ocean, that this “bastardisation” (from my perspective) will most assuredly become the norm.

So the Oxford comma will suffer the same fate/ benefit according to precisely the same guideline which prevails concerning all aspects of English’s evolution.

“SHOULD” it be eliminated implies that a governing body of some sort is responsible for enforcing or interdicting its use, but ultimately it will continue to be used (or fall into disfavour) by what can be construed as popular vote, namely the speakers of English keeping it “on the ballot” by virtue of its continued (perceived and / or actual) usefulness.

The English language might just be the closest one to surviving over time according to pure Darwinian principles, and as I pointed out in another answer, and as long as this is the case its survival is almost guaranteed.

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