The Unassailable Superiority of the Oxford Comma #5

Those who are familiar with the Japanese language will understand the grammatical value of the term とか.  Jisho defines it as “among other things; such things as; or something like that.” Problems can arise when attempting to use these English phrases, such as unnecessary emphasis or the phrase “or something like that” not fitting into a pretentiously formal context. That’s why there exists an easier way to convey a sense of uncertainty among the items of a list. This method is to neglect the term “and,” “or,” and/or “and/or.”

I apologize in general for that previous sentence.

Anyway, take the following excerpt from the novella Three Sentences I Just Made Up as an example:

“Jeff has prepared quite an assortment of victuals. Macaroni, burgers, bacon. I don’t know where to begin!”

The absence of an “and” before the penultimate item indicates that macaroni, burgers, and bacon are among many items included in Jeff’s appetizing comestibles. This is relevant for two reasons.

First, let’s adjust this sentence to complicate the items:

“Jeff has prepared quite an assortment of victuals. Macaroni and cheese, burgers and fries, bacon and eggs. I don’t know where to begin!”

If the reader doesn’t know whether to expect the Oxford comma, then the above sentence can be read as a definite number of items (the last two being bacon and eggs, discretely) or as an indefinite number of items.

This sentence serves as an example that the Oxford comma must be used always, in contrast to what, say, the inferior MHRA Style Guide dictates: “The comma after the penultimate item may be omitted in books published by the MHRA, as long as the sense is clear.” They’re implying that you can go around ignoring the comma and then use it only when you need it. The Oxford comma ain’t your desperate ex-girlfriend.

As for the second reason, take a common argument against the Oxford comma as worded by Wikipedia:

“It is redundant in a simple list because the and or the or is often meant to serve (by itself) to mark the logical separation between the final two items . . .”

Incorrectamundo! The “and” or “or,” as I’ve explained, does not serve to separate two items. It serves to distinguish a definite list from an indefinite list. In fact, Wikipedia adds the following after whatever disreputable citation from which the first part of the sentence came:

“. . . unless the final two items are not truly separate items but are two parts of a compound single item.”

That is, of course, the concept that I’ve just discussed. In short, there is no logic to neglecting the Oxford comma.

It’s interesting how とか and “and” or “or” play together between Japanese and English. The absence of とか implies a definite list, whereas its presence implies an indefinite list. The absence of “and” or “or” implies an indefinite list, whereas its presence implies a definite list.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the Oxford comma is superior.

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