The Oxford and the Shatner Comma

As I’d mentioned in one of my turning 30 posts a few weeks back, one of my goals for the year is to master the comma. I struggle with this punctuation more than I’d care to admit. In an effort to spread the learning of the comma let’s take a look at some history and the infamous serial comma.

History! says that the word comma is derived from Latin where it means “short phrase” or “clause in a sentence.”

This University of Wisconsin site talks a little bit about the trends and rules that have developed for the comma after its initial adoption into written word which Wikipedia puts at around the 3rd century BC.

the long-term trend has been toward greater regularization in developing and applying the rules as well as toward a reduction in the comma’s frequency of use. Still the comma remains the most frequently used punctuation markā€”and undoubtedly the most frequently misused.

Which brings me to the serial comma (often called the Oxford or Harvard comma). The serial comma is a comma that is used in lists. As an example: Some letters of the alphabet are A, B, C, and D. See that comma after the C? That’s the serial comma. Some people love it, other people hate it. Neither the New York Times nor the Economist use it… but MLA standards and Oxford both use it. Well… kind of. Oxford’s public affairs guide issued a statement recently that recommended leaving out the famed Oxford comma, but the official Oxford Manual of Style still recommends its usage. So while the jury is still out, perhaps the general trend is that the serial comma is disappearing from usage.

As a final point, I’d like to make reference to JK Elemenopee’s excellent find: The Shatner Comma. Apparently amidst all of the Oxford comma confusion writer Everett Maroon twitted the following: “Professor friend o mine is against losing the Oxford comma, but wishes his students would lose the Shatner comma. You, know, what, he means.”


5 thoughts on “The Oxford and the Shatner Comma

  • 7/6/2011 at 9:52 am

    Wikipedia has a pretty good article on the subject ( Using or not using the Oxford comma can make ambigious sentences, but I think using the Oxford results in less. Although I think not using the Oxford often looks better.

    Fun phrase that makes a convincing argument for the Oxford comma:

    “apples and oranges, left and right, and up and down”


    “apples and oranges, left and right and up and down”

    • 7/6/2011 at 10:21 am


      I’m with you on this. Though I think even opponents of the Oxford comma say that you should use it when necessary, such as the case you presented here. I’ve been one who prefers the more definitive rule that prevents any confusions, but many smart people disagree with me.

      • 7/6/2011 at 1:19 pm

        You have probably heard of the book titled: Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, and the other: Eats Shoots & Leaves: Why, commas really do make a difference!

        Kind of fun!

        Personally, I love the comma, and I do tend to overuse it.

  • 7/6/2011 at 3:40 pm

    Oxford comma forever!

    Shatner comma, can, die a, fiery, DEATH!

    • 7/8/2011 at 8:41 am

      Love the Oxford comma. My favorite example sentence will always remain:

      I’d like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God.

      My favorite example of when the Oxford comma should be eliminated is:

      I traveled to Oregon with my mother, a prostitute, and a dog.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *