Ever since I began as a copy editor at the Daily Cal, I’ve had a conflicted relationship with the Oxford comma. It has always made sense to me to separate every term in a series; otherwise, how would the reader know the last didn’t have to do with the previous? However, the holy text of American newspapers (the Associated Press Stylebook, that is) has revoked the Oxcom’s* status as “optional,” barring it from entry into everything from front-page features to photo captions. To illustrate my frequently encountered dilemma, I give you this picture:
Now, according to the AP Stylebook, there are times when the good old Oxford comma is acceptable. This includes when “an integral element of the series requires a conjunction,” or “before the concluding conjunction in a complex series of phrases.”
Unfortunately for JFK and Stalin, I don’t think either of those loopholes will save them from tassels, fishnet thigh-highs and pink stilettos.
*Note: Oxcom here refers to the Oxford comma, not the Oxford College of Marketing. Or the Outside Experimental Combat Mammal.