Sunday, March 30, 2014

Another Case for the Oxford Comma

Recently, there has been some controversy over the necessity of the so-called "Oxford comma".  In particular, citations have been made as to how its absence can be misleading.  However, I recently encountered a case where its absence clarifies things, though only due to the expectation of its presence where necessary. 
This isn't a great example, since it's an ingredients label and not a sentence, but I think that this might provide some insight.  I had a honey lemon chamomile infusion, and its ingredients list bore something interesting.  I reproduce it here in full: 
Chamomile flowers, lemon and honey flavors. 
The absence of a comma between "lemon" and "and" tells me that the flavors are both of lemon and of honey, and that that there is no direct lemon in the infusion.  If the Oxford comma were not expected, however, then I would not know whether "lemon" described merely a flavor or actual lemon. 
Significantly, this non-sentence cannot be - as opponents of the Oxford comma oft suggest - rearranged, since ingredients must be listed in order, from most to least. 
While I don't expect this to be a game-changer, due to its non-sentence nature, I at least hope that this helps to further convey the importance of this grammatical convention. 

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