I admit before my editor and I discussed it I had never used the Oxford comma… and to be honest, I didn’t know what it was. According to the New Oxford American Dictionary:
“The Oxford Comma or Serial Comma is a comma used after the penultimate item in a list of three ormore items, before ‘and’ or ‘or’ (e.g., an Italian painter, sculptor,and architect).”
I will be the first to admit I remember very little about my childhood and particularly about English during grade school, but I vaguely remember (somewhere in the back of my mind) being told that such a comma was actually unnecessary by one of my teachers. And I went to private school so if any place should have taught me about the Oxford comma, it’s there! The fact that I was twenty years old before I had even heard of the Oxford comma says a lot about the state of the educational system. Sure in the long run perhaps children not knowing about the Oxford comma or it’s importance isn’t necessarily the worst part about the educational system, but it doesn’t help. So what exactly is the importance of the Oxford comma you may ask? I decided to turn this one over to my editor for her professional view. According to her quote:
“If you look at Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, the Oxford comma is always proper to use in a series of 3 or more items. Otherwise, meaning can be misconstrued. For example: “Yesterday I ate pizza, ham and cheese.” Without the Oxford comma, it looks like you ate pizza by itself and ham and cheese something but neglected to finish your train of thought”
Once upon a time I know that I did in fact own Elements of Style but after about a dozen moves it’s a miracle I can find anything anymore. I’m going to bet it’s in my closet.