The Case of the Oxford Comma

The early morning mist swirled around Detective Grammar Smith’s legs as she made her way up the steps of the sprawling veranda to the massive front door. She had been summoned to Anthology Acres, the home of dot-com millionaire Fiver Essay and his wife, Paragraph. It was all about a comma.

“This way, detective,” an ancient question mark showed her into a comfortable but richly decorated parlor. “Can I get you something to drink while you wait?”

“No, thanks.”

Grammar looked around. Everything seemed to be in order, but when she looked out of the large picture window, she could see commas working in the garden and furtively glancing up at the house. Something was making them nervous.

When Fiver and Paragraph, who seemed to be inseparable, finally made it to the parlor, Smith got right down to business.

“We hired an Oxford comma,” Fiver explained. “We thought it would be useful to have an educated comma on the staff, and we put him to work in the library.”

“Then a week ago, he disappeared,” Paragraph finished the story. “We looked all over, but he was gone!”

“Are there coordinating conjunctions employed here?”

“Yes.” Fiver was a bit sheepish. “We try to give them a chance to rehabilitate themselves.”

Grammar interviewed And and Or who worked on the Essay estate.

“I don’t know what happened to the little bugger,” And snarled. “He just didn’t show to pick up that last noun. I had nothing to do with it, copper!”

Unfortunately, the Essay incident was not an isolated case. Grammar had a serious serial comma disappearance problem. She checked with Chicago, MLA, and APA who all agreed the missing commas were a dilemma. AP declared it was all a non-issue.

When a sentence has a series of three or more nouns, phrases, or clauses, a comma often appears at the end of the last element and before the coordinating conjunction. This helps avoid confusion.

Grammar looked high, low, and everywhere in between. Grammar interviewed conjunctions, they proclaimed their innocence, and the case went nowhere. She could continue the search, pass the problem to someone else, or ignore the whole thing.

The Associated Press Stylebook is one major reference that eliminates the last comma before the conjunction.

“News people, always trying to save some space!” Grammar mused, frustrated.

Finally, Grammar tracked down the Essays’ missing comma. It was on a beach in Jamaica bumming around with other Oxford commas.

“Bloody writers!” it declared. “They never can decide if they want us or not!”

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