Perhaps such an important point as this one is overdue, but I’d like to mention the bane of all those grammatical infidels who so tragically fall one comma short: the semicolon.
In case you aren’t familiar with the less prominent rules of the English language, allow me to explain one of the uses of the semicolon. I would like to say that the following is its more common and appropriate use, but many authors, not limited to those of today’s time, take it upon themselves to abuse it as a conjunction.
When one or more items of a list are accompanied by one or more parenthetical expressions (or a mere apposition, or even another list!), a semicolon should replace the comma that separates the items in order to eliminate ambiguity. For example:
“Among the comestibles were apples, which were of the Fuji variety; bananas, a favorite of mine; and oranges, quite orange in color.”
The semicolons should be used not only when all of the items have their own parenthetical expression, but when at least one does. Therefore, the following is also correct:
“Among the comestibles were apples; bananas, a favorite of mine; and oranges.”
Now, one fact immediately comes to mind. Does this rule not corroborate the inherent logic and superiority of the Oxford comma through the placement of the semicolon where a comma would go in a more basic list? Even one who does not use the Oxford comma would express such a sentence as it is above, not as, “Among the comestibles were apples; bananas, a favorite of mine and oranges,” for the latter proves ridiculous by any writer’s standards. Does this validation of correctness not inspire a universal understanding as to the Oxford comma’s preference, such that one scholarly gentleman on one side of the English-speaking world might say, “Should I or should I not place a comma after this penultimate item of my list? Oh! If this list were to contain a parenthetical expression or two, I would be obliged to employ an appropriate quantity of semicolons, so it is well and natural that I should place commas in the corresponding locations,” and another even more scholarly gentleman inhabiting the other side of the English-speaking world might do the same through the same reasoning, thereby establishing an invisible yet essential link among all individuals of fine linguistic education?
But hold onto your socks, because the semicolon serves another function in proof of the Oxford comma’s supremacy, this being a more practicable one.
Infidels often posit the following or something akin to the following as an argument against the Oxford comma:
“Those at the ceremony were the commodore, the fleet captain, the donor of the cup, Mr. Smith, and Mrs. Jones.”
As I’ve mentioned in a previous article, we do not know, it is argued, whether Mr. Jones is the donor of the cup. However, logic compels those of greater intellect to infer one of two things from the sentence: Mr. Smith is not the donor of the cup, or the writer is so dreadfully incompetent that he does not know how to use semicolons. If Mr. Smith were the donor of the cup, the sentence would be written as follows:
“Those at the ceremony were the commodore; the fleet captain; the donor of the cup, Mr. Smith; and Mrs. Jones.”
Basic reasoning leads us to the converse. If semicolons are not present, Mr. Smith and the donor of the cup are not the same.
Whenever you come to a sentence in which a similar sense of ambiguity exists, you can come to the conclusion that a qualified writer would employ the semicolon where appropriate, or you may otherwise cynically curse the inferior education that so permeates this world void of scholarship whilst you peck at your nonexistent monocle beside your nonexistent shelf of multitudinous nonexistent leather-bound books, as I do.