Commas, serial commas, and Oxford commas

OK, I know serial commas and Oxford commas are the same thing. But I needed a third item in my headline list so I could use one.

Have you heard the brouhaha about Oxford University eliminating the namesake comma from its own style guide? (And here we must note that Oxford University uses a different style guide than that published by Oxford University Press, which still does recommend the use of the serial comma. Got it?) There’s been plenty of coverage, but my favorite so far is this late-breaking summary from Meghan Casey at Brain Traffic. It opens with an excellent quote from the also excellent Lynn Truss, author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves:

“There are people who embrace the Oxford comma, and people who don’t, and I’ll just say this: never get between these people when drink has been taken.”

For me, the serial comma is essential. Maybe not life-or-death essential, but I agree with Brain Traffic’s Melissa Rach:

“The serial comma is a courtesy. Is it required? No. Is it a nice thing to do for your users? Absolutely.”

The serial comma was part of the Bellcore style guide, Putting Words on Paper, which I cut my teeth on. That style guide is basically hard-wired into my brain, and so the serial comma is with me to stay.