I was thumbing through a poetry chapbook made by a former student at Utah Valley University, and stumbled on a piece titled “The Oxford Comma.” As you probably know from my previous entries on the topic, I’m quite a fan of our dear serial comma, so I was deeply enthused to find that the author’s feelings reflected my own. It felt mandatory to track down the author and ask for permission to re-publish the work here. Chelsea Foulk, who is also the creative mind behind InClover Art, was kind enough to grant said permission.
So, without further rambling, here is “The Oxford Comma” by Chelsea Foulk.
If you’re here looking for the simple answer to this simple question, here goes:
That was easy, wasn’t it? But, since you probably asked that question because what you were taught before contradicts what you’re being taught now, let me clarify the ins and outs of this particular writing rule.
Ah, the hyphen. As one of the world’s most ambiguous bits of punctuation, the hyphen has become the source of confusion, despair, and bone-rattling terror for writers around the world. But the mystery of the hyphen is far from impenetrable – and by understanding why we use this little dash, you’ll get a much better sense of how to use it.
The Basics of the Hyphen
Let’s start with the core function of hyphens: The hyphen clarifies modifiers.
The Oxford Comma: Give Me Clarity or Give Me Death
I ask every writer and editor I work with one crucial question: “What’s your opinion on the Oxford comma?” At times this has even been my conversation opener, because, much like religious nuts who won’t befriend those not of their faith, I just can’t bear people who don’t believe in the serial comma. I feel like spending time with anti-Oxford-comma-ists may cause me to break out into a terrible rash.
Update: I’m still tracking down the original image, but this error seems to be an epidemic in the cake-making industry. Another recent birthday celebration I attended had a similar issue. The birthday girl allowed me to punctuate her cake — in red frosting, even!
On Saturday, I spent time with my family watching the new Narnia film and going to a Pirate-themed restaurant where my father kept trying to talk in Pirate lingo. We also had a special guest: Henry, a family friend, who happened to be celebrating his birthday.
Perhaps normal people have understandable phobias and pet peeves. As an excessively dedicated writer, however, we have only warped versions of either. To us, this is warped in its best possible sense. For example, we cringe—no, we get a little physically ill—every time someone uses the word “alot” with me.
Of course, the major reason we have such a reaction to this word is that the only way this makes sense is if you’re referring to the mythical creature known as an alot (created by our friend at Hyperbole and a Half to help them cope with the same pain). Therefore, “I care about this alot” turns into: