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The lights go out again

Yesterday was the anniversary of the day that Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Francis Ferdinand in Sarajevo, setting in motion events that destroyed the old order.

Today dawned sunny and mild in Baltimore, with little indication that the old order was once more imperiled.

But now the disturbance in the Twitterverse is profound. I was alerted by a tweet from @CopyCurmudgeon: The University of Oxford style guide recommends against using the Oxford comma.

Oh, it’s permitted “to resolve ambiguity,” which is the same weasely dodge the Associated Press Stylebook allows.

Oxford on a level with AP. How downmarket.



Posted by John McIntyre at 11:32 AM | | Comments (14)


[Snort!] Thanks for the laugh.

I’m a practical newspaperman. My training has been in newsrooms, not classrooms. Serial commas were frowned upon, not forbidden.
In my life experience, I better serve the reader, my customer, when I use “extra” commas.
Sometimes commas are optional for comprehension. Sometimes, they are needed, or are useful for emphasis.
In any case, I’ve made it a personal rule in my writing to use the extra comma. I follow that rule when I edit other reporters. Readers deserve clarity in news reporting.
On features I tend to let myself and others blow themselves out in any which way they feel like it for whatever impression they are trying to create with their writing.
Am I wrong?

However, in almost the same breath they say that either "which" or "that" is allowed in parenthetical relative clauses, so all is not lost.

I've never understood this. If you use a serial comma, there's no need to think about ambiguity (or argue with a writer about it). What's not to like?

That's why at CMOS we've always thought it should be called the Chicago comma.

The Oxford Style Guide example says, in essence and without rationale "Don't use the serial comma. Except to avoid confusion." Thank heavens my professional writing isn't subject to the mandates and seeming arbitrariness of a style guide. I always get to use the serial comma when I write at work. It's one less thing to figure out and my series are always confusion-free.

I take an extremely broad interpretation of the "resolve ambiguity" loophole.

This is in their style guide for material that goes out under the Oxford University brand - that is, press releases, brochures and similar material. This isn't the style guide for Oxford University Press, and it very definitely isn't the Oxford Guide to Style, an altogether weightier matter.

@John Roth: That makes a lot of sense, actually. For a little while there, I thought reality was coming unglued. But if it's for press releases, etc, then it seems as though they're accommodating publications that use AP style. According to the 'Branding Toolkit' in which this provision is found, it's part of creating a 'visual identity' for the university.

Interestingly, according to the OED the 'Oxford' of Oxford Comma refers specifically to OUP house style. So it seems the Department of Public Affairs at the University isn't the 'Oxford' in question anyway. Anyone know if OUP's changed their style at all?

Alternatively, I almost like the idea of a campaign to call it the 'Chicago Comma'...It's more alliterative, for one thing...

Perhaps it is time for new world to step forth and rescue and liberate the old. The Chicago comma, indeed! It was reading Sir Winston that pushed me over the edge in support of the Oxford comma. Churchill never met a comma he didn’t shoot. Confused me.

The Oxford comma is alive and well at Oxford University Press:

Yesterday's brouhaha was over a guideline about the comma that was written for Oxford's public-relations writers.

I'm going to call it the Chicago comma from now on. Who's with me?

I understood and understand that the style sheet was for the university's press office, not the University Press.

Damn their eyes anyhow.

I still want to know why there is no Cambridge Comma.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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