Colbert and commas

by andybechtel

A friend posted this clip from “The Colbert Report” on Facebook the other day. In it, the titular host offers a fierce defense of the Oxford comma.

That’s the comma that sometimes shows up in lists of three or more items. It’s also known as the serial comma.

The topic of punctuation came up on the Comedy Central show because Colbert was interviewing the band Vampire Weekend. One of the band’s songs is called “Oxford Comma.”

As a copy editor with a journalistic education and background, I don’t use the Oxford comma. To me, the American flag is red, white and blue.

But if I were to take a job that used, say, the Chicago Manual of Style, I would use the serial comma. Then, the American flag would be red, white, and blue.

The comments on my friend’s Facebook posting included some people arguing that the Oxford comma is a matter of right or wrong. Others never knew there was a debate.

In my editing course, I tell my students that they may need to use the serial comma in their term papers in English classes, but not in their journalism assignments.

I’d say it’s a matter of style, similar to whether names of blogs should be italicized. Just pick a style and use it, along with common sense.

Colbert, by the way, cites “The Elements of Style” to make his case for this comma. I wonder if he’s aware of the criticism that book has taken in recent years.

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