Punctuation lends clarity and precision to communication, and as a consequence is a powerful toolset.
Here’s an illustrative video that drives the point home.
Perhaps my favourite piece of punctuation is the Oxford comma (up there with the semicolon). According to Wikipedia, the Oxford comma is alternatively known as:
- serial comma
- series comma
- Harvard comma
I prefer “Oxford comma”, first because that’s the name I originally heard, and second because it seems likely that it was used at Oxford considerably before being used at Harvard.
When I write, I consciously try to influence the inner monologue or speech pattern of the reader, so as to most effectively make my points. The Oxford comma lets me do this. The alternative, which is to link the final two things in a list simply with an “and” is, to me, simultaneously abhorrent, unclear, and not a good representation of how we actually speak.
Here’s another illustrative example (this was passed to me by a fellow grammar-impassioned colleague, but I don’t know it’s origin…I tried using TinEye to resolve this and appropriately attribute the image, but to no avail):
If you’d like to read more, apparently there are many other folks who are passionately for or against this obviously good thing:
- Wikipedia (a nice balanced entry)
- Business Insider: The Oxford Comma is Extremely Overrated (among other things, it actually dissects the previous example)
- A Mental Floss summary of arguments for and against
- A whole collection of amusing Oxford comma-related imagery
This all just leads me to conclude that while the Oxford comma is imperfect, it remains better than the alternatives…and also that people have lots of misplaced passion.