The Great Oxford Comma Debacle of 2019 (PLUS a New Release!)

If you’ve written anything in the last 35 years, you may have gotten conflicting advice about the necessity of using certain commas. The Oxford comma has been the subject of great debate during this time (I kid you not!) with people standing firmly in one of two camps.

What The Heck is An Oxford Comma and Who Cares?

The Oxford comma, sometimes called the serial comma, is the punctuation that occurs just before a coordinating conjunction in a series of three or more items.

Huh?

For example, in the below sentence, the Oxford comma is placed before and:

Ross pulled himself heavily to his feet, picked up his glass, and drained the last bit of iced tea.

OH! Those commas!

You probably either always use them or never do. See, you might have your own opinion about the Oxford comma but didn’t know it! 🙂

So, why is this one little punctuation mark so hotly debated? Well, many would argue it’s more stylistic than necessaryin most cases. Every editor, teacher, and writer (published or not) have an opinion on this little devil of a punctuation mark.

There are two schools of thought on the Oxford comma (okay, three…):

  1. They should always be used to avoid any confusion for the reader.
  2. They are unnecessary in most cases, so don’t worry about using themunless the sentence could be totally misread without one.
  3. If you write properly, you don’t need them.

The reason for such differing opinions about this little comma is that humans use language. And, since humans are always changing (we hope evolving), so does our language. Grammar rules and stylistic no-no’s go in and out of favor. When I was in middle school, I was taught to always use the Oxford comma. By the time I got to my freshman year of college, they were considered outdated and usually unnecessary. Language and its governing rules are living things, always changing.

Are you asking yourself why I’m discussing the pros and cons of the Oxford comma?

Because, in the first scene of my new book in the Digital Detective Mystery series, Libel to Kill two wanna-be authors are duking it out over the Oxford comma.

See for yourself how the book opens:

Libel to Kill Oxford comma

“No, no, no,” Bernadette “Bernie” Comer said sharply. “I’ve told you, the Oxford comma is vital for clarity.

Phyllis Buckley straightened in her chair. “Well, I have a brand-spankin’ new grammar book that says it’s up to the writer’s whether to use ‘em.”

“I was taught in school to always use them, and I stick by that.” Bernie sternly nodded her head once as if determining the matter was settled.

The weekly meeting of the Writing Alliance Circle, or WAC, was in full swing, as was evident from the argument that periodically resurfaced. During each meeting, writers have the chance to get feedback on their work-in-progress. It was sheer bad luck Phyllis had landed with Bernie this week.

“You were in school back when Moses brought the stone tablets down from the mountain. I hardly think we can go off that antiquated advice,” Phyllis’ voice grew loud.

I knew where this was leading, and it was nowhere good. I looked at the ceiling, gathering my patience. I stood and headed over to them. I needed to intervene before they came to blows.

Bernie huffed and crossed her arms over her ample chest. “Phyllis Buckley, you are older than me. How dare you bring my age into this. I’ll have you know my cardiologist recently told me I’d live another twenty years, regardless of my—” Libel to Kill is now available! Amazon

Why Did I Start The First Scene This Way?

The theme for Libel to Kill is overcoming societal conventions that hold us back from being who we truly are. When I was plotting the book, the idea of the Oxford comma debate came to mind, and I snagged it. I’ve been in these debates, both in person and online. They can get heated (I’m not making that up!) It was the perfect way to open the bookwith a convention that has changed over the years. And one we are sometimes forced to use, (by teachers or editors) no matter our thoughts on the subject.

Below are just a few of the sentences using the Oxford comma from Libel to Kill:

  • This is what I’d hoped for when I’d started the group—an intimate band of wanna-be authors coming together to share our joys, frustrations, and feedback.
  • In the drainer beside the sink, Bernie had neatly stacked a couple of plates, a glass, silverware, and a teapot.
  • She [Ellie] slammed her fork down on the table, stood up, and dashed up the stairs.
  • Up close, I could see she [Marjory] had a rash on her neck, face, and hands.
  • Attempting to stay objective, I wrote the sins Bernie had assigned, along with any details about their motive, means, and opportunity, next to each name.
  • Bernie had an ample supply of toilet paper, hand towels, and wash clothes under the sink, along with her disposable hypodermic syringes.
  • Evan, Ned, and Reverend Holt could lose their businesses or vocation if their indiscretions came out.
  • She [Phyllis] perked up a little, dragging out lists of possible caterers, swatches for bridesmaid dresses, and a list of songs they’d like the band to play.
  • The first couple of pages listed chapters, the characters, and their indiscretions bulleted underneath.
  • Both [Bernie’s kids] had sandy-brown hair cut in easy-to-maintain styles, were tallish, and dressed in basic jeans and plain t-shirts.
  • Feeling dejected after my discussion with Bernie’s kids, I pushed aside my plate, put my elbow on the table, and anchored my chin on my fist.
Libel to Kill

Libel to Kill Synopsis

Jade Blackwell had no idea when she started the Writers Alliance Circle (affectionately known as WAC) it would lead to murder. Though everyone else in the village believes the old battleax, Bernie Comer, died of natural causes, Jade can’t help but see the inconsistencies. Isn’t is just possible someone killed Bernie to keep their secrets from being revealed in her libelous novel?

If that wasn’t enough, there’s also her disastrous attempts to write a mystery novel and her argumentative daughter home from college for the summer. False starts, misdirection, and a Bible-quoting parrot can’t hold Jade back for long, but would she have been better off letting sleeping dogs lie?

With her usual sidekicks too preoccupied with their own dramas, Jade is forced to seek justice on her own. Ignoring the snickers at her expense, Jade investigates Bernie’s death while trying to fly under the naysayers’ radars. 

Libel to Kill is now available! Amazon

Find out how Jade Blackwell got her sleuthing start...for free! Just tap HERE to get your immediate download of Blogging is Murder.

When you sign up, you’ll also automatically be registered to win one of four grand prizes! Read Jade’s first adventure for free HERE!

Posted by Gilian Baker. Gilian is a former English professor who has gone on to forge a life outside academia by adding cozy mystery author to her C.V. She’s the author of the Digital Detective Mystery Series.

We blog here at misterio press about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

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3 thoughts on “The Great Oxford Comma Debacle of 2019 (PLUS a New Release!)

  1. Shannon Esposito

    Haha! I’ve actually watched these debates on social media with great amusement. I personally don’t use them, just because I’m a minimalist in every area of my life. But I don’t have a strong opinion on them one way or the other. Definitely a fun way to start out a mystery! Best of luck with the release 🙂

    Reply
    1. Gilian Baker

      Thanks, Shannon! I didn’t use them for years. And then, when I started my ghostwriting agency, so many clients wanted them used that I just gave in. Now I find myself using them even when I don’t have to! I guess I’ve given in to societal convention! Oh, no! 🙁

      Reply
  2. Kassandra Lamb

    Great post, Gilian!! Who’d have thought that the Oxford comma debate could be funny … Thanks for reminding us not to take our commas too seriously. 😀

    I’m of the “only use them when you have to” school of thought myself, but I don’t feel strongly about it.

    Reply

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