Who Gives a @#$! About an Oxford Comma?

It was either late high school or early in college when I made the conscious decision to turn my back on what I had been taught to believe and never look back. For me, it was simply a case of considering the evidence and realizing the indoctrination I had been subject to for nearly two decades was wrong. I couldn’t lie to myself any longer: there was no reason to type two spaces at the end of a sentence.

The two space habit is a typographical anachronism. It was devised to make old monospace type easier to read. In this day and age, all it does is wastes space. In fact, it’s been estimated that in annual U.S. Government document printing alone, a single space instead of a double space at the end of a sentence would save an estimated 2,300 acres of old growth forest per year.*

The funny thing is, when I decided to switch, I don’t recall it being a hard habit to break. It just made sense to me. Something about the mathematical side of my brain clicked, and the one space thing became a default for me.

Recently, I’ve found myself accepting another sea change in my grammatical habits that I’ve argued against for years: the Oxford Comma. I simply came to accept the fact that the serial comma reduces ambiguity in sentences: I went to the store with my parents, Frank and Ethel. Are Frank and Ethel my parents? Or did I go with 4 people? With the serial comma: I went to the store with my parents, Frank, and Ethel. Much clearer.

I’ve accepted it. I’ve heard all the arguments and have been persuaded. It takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong, but I was wrong. Here’s the thing, though: this habit has been impossible to break. Where I always see two spaces on a manuscript and grind my teeth, I don’t even notice the missing Oxford comma, even when I’m looking for it. I’m starting to fear that I might be too old, too set in my ways and too stubborn to change. (See?) I want to change, but I can’t.

These are the things that keep me up at night.

On another note, I’ll be reading this Wednesday night, May 7, at Cliff Dwellers (200 S. Michigan Ave.) for a celebration of the 20th Anniversary Issue of Chicago Quarterly Review, which featured my story “The Candidate.” Bar opens at 6, readings start at 7. Details on the Facebook page. Hope to see you there.

* Note: this fact is completely made up, a technique I learned from the Drudge Report…

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