Connect with us

Opinion Editorials

The case for using the Oxford comma

A humorous look at why a tiny comma can make a tremendous difference in your emails and marketing efforts.

Published

on

oxford comma

Depending on where you grew up, you were likely taught in grade school that in a list of three or more items, a comma is placed before the coordinating conjunction (“and,” “or,” and sometimes “nor”) in the list. Some were taught that this is mandatory, while others were told it is an irrelevant rule, and these conflicting teaching methods have led to a confused nation.

That comma is called the Oxford comma, and while some call it a serial comma, others still prefer the hoity toity title of Harvard comma. How the Oxford comma works is as follows:

  • With the Oxford comma: “I have lived in Nashville, Toronto, and Mexico City.”
  • Without the Oxford comma: “I have lived in Nashville, Toronto and Mexico City.”

You may read those examples and think that there is literally no difference. The Oxford comma was originally eliminated by publishers where each manually loaded character was questioned as real estate on a page was at a premium. Publishers looked at sentences like the two above and agreed that there was no difference. Therefore, the AP Stylebook, which is still followed by traditional journalists today (but rejected by AGBeat).

The Oxford comma is common in many non-English languages of Latin descent, like Spanish, Italian, Greek, and French, to name a few. So why do some so vehemently disagree with this tiny comma’s use? Some say it introduces ambiguity, it is redundant in situations where coordinating conjunctions already point out the logical separation between items, and it adds unnecessary characters to text (important in the original publication days, and now relevant again with Twitter users).

No one here is an expert in grammar. Several of us have English and journalism degrees, and we write thousands of pages per month, but we make just as many mistakes as the next person. Collectively, we have a select few pet peeves, such as ignoring the poor Oxford comma.

Take a look at the pictures below and tell us in the comments whether or not you agree that the Oxford comma is vital to the language:

oxford comma rules
using the oxford comma
tim tebow and the oxford comma
god and the oxford comma
lincoln and the oxford comma

This editorial was first published here in 2012, and we stand by it today!

Continue Reading
Advertisement
7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Jeff Brown

    July 2, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    Agreed. You are right. ‘Course, in my world, you’re always right, so what’s the big deal?

  2. J Philip Faranda

    July 2, 2012 at 10:15 pm

    I must be getting old because I find this fascinating. 

  3. SeanPurcell

    July 2, 2012 at 11:53 pm

    I understand what you are suggesting, but the funny implication of the latter example in each case still looks like a list to me. If one wanted to say that their parents were Ayn Rand and God, wouldn’t they use a colon? E.g.: To my parents: Ayn Rand and God. Seems that in each example the “without Oxford comma” may not be as clean, but barring a colon still has the same meaning as the example with the Oxford comma. A defining or clarifying list should follow a comma shouldn’t it?

  4. SeanPurcell

    July 2, 2012 at 11:53 pm

     understand what you are suggesting, but the funny implication of the latter example in each case still looks like a list to me. If one wanted to say that their parents were Ayn Rand and God, wouldn’t they use a colon? E.g.: To my parents: Ayn Rand and God. Seems that in each example the “without Oxford comma” may not be as clean, but barring a colon still has the same meaning as the example with the Oxford comma. A defining or clarifying list should follow a colon shouldn’t it?

  5. Kappymann

    July 3, 2012 at 12:54 am

    No, you are not correct as illustrated in the last two examples. If you were to use a colon after the words parents and rinoceri, that would have been the correct punctuation for that meaning. M

  6. jsheehan

    July 3, 2012 at 7:07 am

    I think this is the most abused punctuation mark in the language. I am a comma abuser myself. Reminds me of a story (and the title of a book about English grammar):
     
    A Panda walks into a cafe and orders a sandwich. After eating the sandwich, he pulls out a gun and starts shooting all the other customers. As he heads for the door to leave the cafe owner asks, “Why did you shoot all these innocent people”. The Panda replies, “I am a Panda. A Panda eats, shoots, and leaves”. 🙂

  7. Pingback: Grammarians delight with new document checking tool - AGBeat

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Opinion Editorials

AT&T hit with age discrimination lawsuit over using the word “tenured”

(EDITORIAL) 78% of workers are victims of age discrimination. As awareness arises, lawsuits show what may constitute discrimination, including verbiage.

Published

on

Older man at cafe representing age discrimination

According to the AARP, 78% of older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. As awareness of ageism increases, lawsuits that allege age bias can help employers understand what constitutes discrimination. A recent case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Smith v. AT&T Mobility Services, L.L.C., No. 21-20366 (5th Cir. May 17, 2022), should give employers pause about using other words that could potentially be a euphemism for “older worker.”

What the lawsuit was about

Smith, a customer service representative at AT&T, alleged that he was denied a promotion because of his age. His manager told him that she was not going to hire any tenured employees. The manager wanted innovative employees in the management positions. Smith took this to mean that he was being denied the promotion because of his age. He sued under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Texas law.

The district court found that Smith failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as to one claim and failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination as to the other two claims. Smith appealed. The Appellate court affirmed the district court’s decision, but they did say it was “close.” AT&T did not discriminate against Smith by using the word tenured, because there were other employees of the same age as Smith who were promoted to customer service management positions.

Be aware of the verbiage used to speak to employees

This case is another example of how careful employers need to be about age discrimination, not only in job postings. It’s imperative to train managers about the vagaries of ageism in the workplace to avoid a costly lawsuit. Even though AT&T prevailed, the company still had a pretty hefty legal tab. Don’t try to get around the ADEA by using terminology that could screen out older workers, such as “digital native,” or “recent college grad.” Remind employees and managers about ageism. Document everything. Pay attention to other cases about age discrimination, such as the iTutor case or this case about retirement-driven talk. You may not be able to prevent an employee from feeling discriminated against, but you can certainly protect your business by doing what you can to avoid ageism.

Continue Reading

Opinion Editorials

Writing with pen and paper may mean your smarter than your digital peers

(EDITORIAL) Can writing old fashioned make you smarter? Once considered and art form, handwriting is becoming a thing of the past, but should it be?

Published

on

Writing on paper job titles.

When I was in college, in 2002, laptops weren’t really commonplace yet. Most students took notes by writing with pen and paper. Today, most students take notes with laptops, tablets, cell phones, or other electronic devices. The days of pen and paper seem to be fading. Some students even wait until the end of class and use their cell phones to take a picture of the whiteboard, so in effect, they are not absorbing any of the information because they “can just take a picture of it and look at it later.”

Is it easier to take notes on an electronic device? I think that largely depends on preference. I type faster than I write, but I still prefer to take notes on paper.

According to researchers at Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles, students who take handwritten notes generally outperform students who typed them.

Writing notes help students learn better, retain information longer, and more readily grasp new ideas, according to experiments by other researchers who also compared note-taking techniques.

While most students can type faster than they write, this advantage is short-term. As the WSJ points out, “after just 24 hours, the computer note takers typically forgot material they’ve transcribed, several studies said. Nor were their copious notes much help in refreshing their memory because they were so superficial.” So while it may take a bit longer to capture the notes by hand, more likely than not, you will retain the information longer if you put pen to paper.

As I teach English Composition at the University of Oklahoma, I would also like to say that while I find this to be true for myself, every student has a different learning style. Typed notes are much better than no notes at all. Some students detest writing by hand and I understand that. Everything in our world has gone digital from phones to cable television so it makes sense, even if I don’t like it, that students gravitate more towards electronic note taking than pen and paper.

While I would like to see more students take notes by hand, I certainly won’t require it. Some students are navigating learning disabilities, anxieties, and other impediments that make taking notes digitally more advantageous.

I imagine the same is true for other areas as well: instead of typing meeting notes, what would happen if you wrote them by hand? Would you retain the information longer? Perhaps, and perhaps not; again, I think this depends on your individual learning style.

I would like to suggest that if you are one of the more “electronically-minded” writers, use a flashcard app, or other studying tool to help you review your classroom notes or meeting notes to make them “stick” a bit better. While I find this type of research intriguing, if you enjoy taking your notes electronically, I wouldn’t change my method based on this.

If it’s working for you, keep doing it. Don’t mind me, I’ll be over here, writing everything down with pen and paper.

Continue Reading

Opinion Editorials

5 reasons using a VPN is more important now than ever

(EDITORIAL) Virtual private networks (VPN), have always been valuable, but now, more than ever, entrepreneurs and businesses really should have them.

Published

on

VPN

Virtual private networks (VPN), have always been valuable, but some recent developments in technology, laws, and politics are making them even more important for entrepreneurs and businesses.

A VPN serves as an intermediary layer of anonymity and security between your computer and your internet connection. Your Wi-Fi signal is a radio wave that can ordinarily be intercepted, so any data you transmit back and forth could be taken and abused by interested parties. VPNs act as a kind of middleman, encrypting the data you transmit and protecting you from those prying eyes.

Top10BestVPN.com offers a selection of some of the best-reviewed VPN services on the market; there you can see the different approaches to security and anonymity that different brands take, and get a feel for the price points that are available. But why is it that VPNs are becoming even more important for business owners and entrepreneurs?

These are just five of the emerging influencers in the increasing importance of VPNs:

1. The rise of IoT. The Internet of Things (IoT) is already taking off, with a predicted 8.4 billion devices will be connected to the internet by the end of the year. All those extra connections mean extra points of vulnerability; hackers are skilled at finding tiny entry points, so every new channel you open up on your Wi-Fi connection is another opportunity they could potentially exploit. Using a VPN won’t make your network completely hack-proof—user errors, like giving your password away in a phishing scam, are still a potential threat—but VPNs will make your network more secure than it was before.

2. The popularity of ransomware. Ransomware is growing in popularity, seizing control of devices, sometimes for weeks or months before activating, then holding the device “hostage,” and demanding payment in exchange for releasing the files that are stored on it. These attacks are fast and efficient, making them ideal for hackers to use against small businesses. Again, using a VPN won’t make you immune from these types of attacks, but they will make you harder to target—and hackers tend to opt for the path of least resistance.

3. The escalation of attacks on small businesses. Speaking of small businesses, they happen to be some of the most frequent targets of cybercriminals. About 43 percent of all cyberattacks target small businesses, in part because they have fewer technological defenses but still have valuable assets. Protecting yourself from cyberattacks is a must if you want your business to survive.

4. Political attacks on net neutrality. Politicians have recently attempted to attack and eliminate net neutrality, which is the long-standing guarantee that internet providers can’t violate user privacy by collecting and/or reporting on certain types of data, and can’t create “slow lanes” that throttle certain types of traffic. If net neutrality is abolished, you could face slower internet traffic and decreased privacy on the web. A VPN could, in theory, protect you from these effects. First, your web traffic would be anonymized, so internet providers couldn’t gather as much data on you as other customers. Second, you’ll be routed through a private VPN server, which could help you get around some of the speed throttling you might otherwise see. It’s uncertain whether net neutrality will ultimately fall, but if it does, you’ll want a VPN in place to protect you.

5. The affordability and diversity of VPNs available. Finally, it’s worth considering that VPNs are more affordable and more available than ever before. There are specific VPNs for all manner of businesses and individuals, and they’re all reasonably affordable. Inexpensive options can be yours for as little as a few dollars per month, and more robust, secure options are still affordable, even for frugal businesses. If you try a VPN provider you don’t like, you can always cancel and switch to another provider. This availability makes it easier to find exactly what you need.

If you’ve never used a VPN before and you’re confused, try not to be intimidated. VPNs sound complex, but connecting to one is a simple login process you can use on practically any device. The hardest part is choosing a reliable provider that suits your business’s need. With the influx of coming changes, it’s a good idea to get your VPN in place sooner rather than later.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Our Great Partners

The
American Genius
news neatly in your inbox

Subscribe to our mailing list for news sent straight to your email inbox.

Emerging Stories

Get The American Genius
neatly in your inbox

Subscribe to get business and tech updates, breaking stories, and more!