The Oberlin Review

Review Comes to Senses on Oxford Comma

Victoria Garber, OC ’17

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To the Editors:

Let me begin by admitting that, like my esteemed former colleague Sami Mericle, I harbor a certain amount of resentment that the Oxford comma was implemented only after I was forced to remove it from countless articles during my time at the Review. This objectionable comma convention was indeed a favorite target for complaint, but still I rejoice at its end despite the long-standing nature of the tradition.

On the matter of such breaks with Review tradition being inherently negative developments, I would also remind everyone that my own Arts and Culture section used to rate the films it reviewed not in stars or on a scale but with distinctly rabid-looking white squirrel icons. The tradition was thankfully dispensed with before my time at the Review, and as far as I know this change wasn’t a deal-breaker for the section’s vast and dedicated readership.

Nor was tradition invoked as a reason to preserve aesthetically questionable elements of the Review’s layout during the planning phase of its spring 2017 redesign. Consistency is certainly important, but it shouldn’t be the mallet used to arbitrarily quash measured, timely improvements.

I understand the urge to religiously uphold the standards set forth by venerable bodies like the Associated Press. As a recovering prescriptivist, I feel it myself. The AP stylebook is an invaluable resource, but one that understandably responds to many changes in linguistic usage with blimp-like ponderousness.

Generations grew up largely using the singular “they” instead of the generic masculine before the AP recognized its validity in early 2017, after sanctioning the lowercase “internet” and the use of “chickpea” over “garbanzo bean” in 2016.

Forget strippers; the ambiguous phrase “the campaign manager, a lobbyist and a foreign agent” used to have only one plausible reading, but times have changed, and journalistic style must keep pace.

This is not to say that the AP stylebook should be disregarded, as Sami put it, “willy-nilly” — merely that not all of its sacred tenets were created equal for every circumstance, though I fully expect to be struck by lightning for saying so (“Review Breaks Tradition with Oxford Comma,” Sept. 8, 2017). Hold my garbanzo bean-spread sandwich.

Victoria Garber
OC ’17

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1 Comment

One Response to “Review Comes to Senses on Oxford Comma”

  1. Jim Sunshine '46 on September 16th, 2017 2:46 PM

    The ongoing discussion of the uses or misuses of the serial comma is legitimate in its own way. But if the Review copy desk (?) is that scrupulous over what is, after all, an arguably fine point of punctuation, here is one that is more heartrending: “12:19 p.m. A student reported the theft of their bicycle…”. Again: “6.37 p.m. Safety and Security officers assistant who fell off their bike..”. This usage is all over the paper. If “a” student reported the theft, then it follows that the bike was (presumably) owned by that student and not by a group of students which the use of plural “their” would imply. You may be attempting to avoid identifying the student as either male, female or trans, although in this day and age I don’t know why that should be a problem. You might consider simply using the student’s name. Everyone still has a name, right?

    Jim Sunshine ’46
    Kendal

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