Let me come straight out with it: I like the serial comma. It has an elegance and often a usefulness that I appreciate. Still, I don’t go into a meltdown when a writer doesn’t use one (unless it would have improved the sentence); there are bigger dragons to battle.
In a construction such as, “The flag was red, white and blue,” the serial comma is functionally optional as there can be no mistaking the meaning of the sentence. In this, purportedly real, book dedication, however, a serial comma would have been particularly useful: “To my parents, the pope and Mother Teresa.” This reads as an apposition, as though the pope and Mother Teresa were the author’s parents (which, if true, is a better story than the one I’m telling about serial commas).
Late last month, the University of Oxford’s public relations department issued new style rules, one of which was the elimination of the serial, or Oxford, comma from the department’s missives. The Oxford University Press, which promulgated the use of the Oxford comma in the first place, is keeping the comma in its style guide. As Linda Holmes writes at NPR, this must be a little embarrassing for the OUP, but that’s life in dueling bureaucracies. Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon also mounts an excellent defense of the serial comma.
Before we put the period to the issue, what do you think about the serial comma?