How the Oxford Comma Saved the Modern Era of This, That, and Whatever
I have long wondered why the issue of the Oxford Comma is seemingly of such eternal import. After careful and tedious investigation of this matter, I wonder no longer. It seems our Oxford Comma fans have inexplicably withheld of a vital piece of information from their debates. Here’s the lowdown on a little known fact concerning the Oxford Comma:
The dark times before the Oxford Comma
The comma itself has been around for centuries, but the Oxford Comma was first introduced by Harry Hart in 1905, who at that time was serving as the printer and controller of the Oxford University Press. He had a very good reason for the introduction. Up to that time, all sentences containing a list of this, that and whatever had been very unstable indeed. The instability was the result of any sentence with a list of three or more things inability to stabilize itself by truly defining its meaning within this timeline.
Until 1905, readers had been completely confounded by the lack of a comma in these kinds of sentences, scratching their heads wondering if those last two things were one object or two separate things. After all, without anything to separate “that” and the final “and” their extreme woe and perplexity was entirely understandable. As a result, this unassuming but entirely lethal sentence spelled the doom of the vast majority of our history. It infected not only the sentence itself, no, not even the article itself, but all of that present time and all previous.
The Oxford Comma saves the day!
Few people realize that because of these missing comma safeguards, various dates in our past have been tragically lost into alternate timelines forever. 1596, gone. 1601, gone. 1733, gone. 1855, gone. Our hero, Hart experimented with various mechanisms. He tried out an exclamation point. His staff was angry about that. A question mark. They were just puzzled. A period. They stopped short. Finally, after failing with a semi-colon and a bracket, he went with yet another comma carefully selected from the pages of 100 leading doctoral dissertations. And thusly came the this, that, and whatever we know and love today.
Yep. That’s how it happened. That must be what happened. They spun out into alternate universes. I’ve never seen anything that happened before 1905 so that must be what happened. I know everything after 1905 really happened because I have known people who saw it for themselves.
Long story short, The Oxford Comma saved us. Bless you, Oxford Comma, bless you.
Sources tell me that the debate might soon turn toward another possible exciting new brand of comma. Among today’s grammarians, there is even now a movement afoot to introduce the so-called Random Comma to the mix. The Random Comma will be placed within this, that, and, whatever.
- Winning Words (Considering Ecclesiastes) - April 24, 2023
- The Kings and Queens of Dust (Considering Ecclesiastes) - March 29, 2023
- Judgment of Fictitious Standards (Considering Ecclesiastes) - January 31, 2023
4 thoughts on “How the Oxford Comma Saved the Modern Era of This, That, and Whatever”
I never leave home without it.
Great policy, Amy. Ideal, even.
I, think I will, try the random,comma. Maybe start,a trend.
The horrible overlords I work for insist on omitting the oxford comma from our lessons. Its a subject of much debate. After all that hard work and entire years being lost, I’m starting to see why some people are so very, very passionate about it. They bravely defend it in a “the world may end but I will have my comma” sort of way. To them I say, “soldier on ladies and gentlemen, the entire civilization of the world is in your very hands.”
Very well said, April. The world needs to know.