I hear a lot of opinions on grammar, which is one of the major drawbacks of the writing profession, as is paper cuts. No one topic draws more attention than the Oxford comma (inserting a comma after the second to last in a series, such as “red, white, and blue”).
Lately, my main client is all about AP Style, so I am too. AP eliminates the serial comma when it isn’t needed for clarity. This sounds fine in application, but if people were perfect, we’d all be speaking Esperanto and doing stomach crunches in our sleep.
In my personal writing, except when a client style creeps in, I always prefer the Oxford comma for one simple reason — it never creates confusion.
Removing the serial comma, however — oh, boy.
Take this example I borrowed from “Lack of Oxford Comma Could Cost Maine Company Millions in Overtime Dispute” from the New York Times. “I’d like to thank my parents, Mother Teresa and the pope” is very much different than “I’d like to thank my parents, Mother Teresa, and the pope.”
When done properly, removing the comma accomplishes what, exactly? The hassle of reading a piece of punctuation? This seems like a small benefit compared to the potential of misunderstanding.