Readersforum's Blog

March 26, 2014

The Eternal Duel: A History of Commas

Commas are a touchy subject, having divided writers of the English language into two distinct camps for many years.

On one side of the battlefield are those in favor the Oxford or “serial” comma, which is endorsed by Oxford University Press and the Chicago Manual of Style. In the other corner of the ring are the Associated Press and New York Times, ever skeptical of any unnecessary punctuation.

NPR’s Linda Holmes has a succinct way of describing the root cause of the comma wars:

For those of you who enjoy the outdoors and would no more sort commas into classes than you would organize peanut butter jars in order of viscosity, the serial comma — or “Oxford comma” — is the final comma that comes in a sentence like this: ‘I met a realtor, a DJ, a surfer, and a pharmaceutical salesperson.’ (In this sentence, I am on The Bachelorette.)

Just to reiterate the obvious, some believe the final comma should be included, while others argue that it must be left out.

Incidentally, Holmes makes a decent point— when did anyone start taking commas so seriously? Although it sheds little light on the sheer amount of animosity tied up in this debate, here’s a brief timeline of the comma’s history so far:

Click here to read the rest of this story

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