The Oxford Comma

I have been following the discussion about the use of the Oxford Comma with some interest.

I was taught as a child never to put a comma before ‘and’ in a list – I assume by my father who was a strict grammarian. He also taught me to have three spaces in front of a full stop. Thérèse Coffey – or is it Jacob Rees-Mogg ? – recommends two. I remember the terrible moment when Michael Baxandall added a comma before an and in the draft of my PhD. thesis. He was a pupil of F.R. Leavis. When I questioned the errant comma, he said it improved clarity. Grammar is there to assist understanding. So, I continue to use an Oxford comma, but only sometimes, according to circumstances.

So, my sense if that an Oxford comma is a bit like Jacob Rees-Mogg’s top hat: something for exaggeratedly old-fashioned disciplinarians, which should be used flexibly, not as a cane by an elderly headmaster.


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