Oxford comma question.

Is the Oxford commma used at Cambridge?


Oxford comma is the term for now standard British usage. It does seem to have originated by association with Oxford printers. It is also called the serial comma.

Can’t say for sure if it’s used in the classroom, but in her book Between You and Me professional proofreader/grammarian Mary Norris claims with considerable glee that the serial comma is NOT used by Oxford’s business and marketing departments.

4 Copy Editors Killed In Ongoing AP Style, Chicago Manual Gang Violence

I never heard the phrase “Oxford comma” until quite recently (and I went to Cambridge). I can’t even remember being taught a formula or rule for commas, but no-one’s ever contradicted my usage.

I didn’t think an Onion cite was allowed in post #4 on GQ. I call foul.

Fortunately I don’t need to use it because my parents really were “Ayn Rand and God”.

As an erstwhile professional editor myself, I don’t think the Onion is exaggerating all that much.:wink:

In any case, I’m sure the OP itself is tongue-in-cheek.

ETA: Given this, this is probably better suited to MPSIMS.

I was going to say, I didn’t think the English worried about commas any more.

Nope. During my years writing/editing, I had lively conversations about the Oxford comma many times. And I don’t want to remember discussing the semicolon with half-literate rednecks. :smack:

The actual answer to the OP is that Cambridge’s resistance is weakening. True, the Cambridge University Press style guide merely demands consistency, although it does so rather grudgingly and the text of the style guide itself doesn’t use them. But other Cambridge style guides, such as those for specific academic journals or specific university faculties, do now insist on them. This, needless to say, is a sign that Western Civilisation (or should that be western civilisation?) is doomed.

You think that’s bad, I have to deal with bilingual texts with English and Spanish translations side-by-side. Usually you can just go with one style guide for each language, but sometimes having two different conventions alongside one another makes it look like one is an error.

There actually is a counter example where the Oxford comma obfuscates the meaning in a similar manner to omitting it, but I’m blanking on it. Having spent my 20s in the journalism industry following AP style, we did not use the serial comma, but I’ve long since preferred its use to omitting it (which is what the Chicago Manual of Style prefers, anyway. I don’t really think of this as a US English vs UK English sort of difference, but rather a US journalism style vs rest of the world’s English sort of thing. Most Americans I know use the serial comma, too, unless they grew up writing for American journalistic publications.)

I’d really like to see that counterexample, because this is the first time I’ve heard that one exists. It’s hard to imagine. The point, though, is that anybody with imagination and a basic grasp on English can think up a zillion examples where the lack of a comma obfuscates comprehension so one counterexample means nothing.

When it’s unclear whether the terms are separate items or can be read as one in apposition to another, using a serial comma can create confusion.

To my mother, Ayn Rand, and God. Using a serial comma creates confusion, for while it’s possible for one’s mother to be Ayn Rand, it isn’t possible for one’s mother to be Ayn Rand and God.

However, the AP Stylebook doesn’t say never use a comma with a conjunction; it merely says “do not put a comma before the conjunction in a simple series.” If omitting the final comma will screw things up, then use a comma.

The Stylebook also refers the reader to consult Webster’s New World Dictionary, of which I don’t have a copy handy.

Yes, that’s what I was thinking of–when the comma can be used to set off an appositive.

There’s some arguments and examples against the Oxford comma here. Like I said, I prefer the Oxford comma to the AP stylistic choice to avoid it, but ambiguity can be created either way. Personally, I just think the Oxford comma reduces ambiguity more often than it creates it, which is why I personally prefer it, even though professionally I’ve most often needed to avoid the Oxford comma.

And, yes, AP Style does encourage the use of the Oxford comma in cases where omitting it causes ambiguity.

The answer is actually secret door number 3: if it’s causing confusion, reword the sentence.

Police are still appealing for witnesses to help identify an unknown man who was discovered uncoscious near Cowley.

Oops, I misread the title, that’s the Oxford Coma Question.:):slight_smile: