x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Footnotes: Angry exclamation over comma question

Twitter outcry after false rumour that Oxford comma would be dropped.

The University of Oxford has faced an internet outcry - and a mass show of support for its Oxford comma - after a false rumour circulated this week stating it would abandon the punctuation mark.

Twitter was set alight after the US publishing site GalleyCat was alerted to the comma's false demise.

The Oxford comma, otherwise known as the serial comma, is used before an "and" or "or" and sometimes "nor", before a final item in a list. Example: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah.

While not widely used, the relevance of the Oxford comma has been the subject of passionate debates over the years and even prompted a song from the indie band Vampire Weekend.

To hear Twitterers tell it, the death of the comma could hasten the end of civilisation.

"Are you people insane?" tweeted Anne Halpert (@blurryellow). "The Oxford comma is what separates us from the animals."

"No way!!" Tammi Hagglund (@tami_h) cried. "It's all about flow & continuity & no Oxford comma just feels wrong."

Culture critics also joined the action to defend the comma.

"I am absolutely not a flawless user of any kind of punctuation," National Public Radio's Linda Holmes said on her blog.

"And yet, even the rumbling of a distant threat to the Oxford comma (or 'serial comma') turns me instantly into an NFL referee, blowing my whistle and improvising some sort of signal — perhaps my hands clasped to my own head as if in pain — to indicate that the loss of the serial comma would sadden me beyond words."

Fortunately, Oxford University quickly quelled the uproar by officially stating the guidelines were only for press releases and internal communication.