When to use the Oxford Comma

A fascinating article on the correct use of the Oxford Comma by Walt Hickey, via Jim Dalrymple.

We asked respondents which sentence was, in their opinion, more grammatically correct: “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.” The latter has an Oxford comma, the former none.

The result was pretty much down the middle, with pro-Oxford partisans commanding 57 percent of the vote and opponents to the tyranny of the extra comma grabbing 43 percent. Although those numbers might be enough to defeat Eric Cantor, it’s hardly a clear victory for the Oxfordians.

This traditionally has been another situation where the issue has been hi-jacked by binary pedants. My way is better than your way.

I think we should step back a bit and remember why we invented the written word. It was invented to facilitate communication, effectively as a medium to convey spoken word in the absence of the orator. This means you should use that additional comma to convey the spirit and feeling of sentence when it is appropriate and omit it when the sentence would be delivered in more clipped fashion or when wanting to deliver less emphasis.

Example one - When to omit the comma:

I had fish, chips and peas for lunch.

Example two - When to use the Oxford Comma:

Juliet was ravishing. She had the looks, the presence, and the demeanour to capture your heart in an instant.

Not difficult. Everyone comply immediately please. I will be checking with diligence, tenacity, and relentless focus.