Get a bunch of writers in a room and you’ll find many a strong opinion on the serial comma. Also known as the Oxford comma, the serial comma is the last comma in a listing of words or phrases. For example:
My heroes are my parents, Harry Potter, and Wonder Woman.
People who are intelligent People who are fans of the serial comma insist that it’s necessary for many reasons — the prime one being that it prevents (sometimes comical) misunderstandings. For example, take the above sentence and take out the serial comma. You end up with:
My heroes are my parents, Harry Potter and Wonder Woman.
So you’re the spawn of Harry Potter and Wonder Woman, are you?
Now, all those wacky kids who dislike the serial comma would tell you, “Forget the serial comma! Just rearrange the sentence!” They’d want you to write, “My heroes are Harry Potter, Wonder Woman, and my parents.”
My friends, I say this to you: Do not fall for this tricksy argument. Rearranging the above sentence works in this case, I guess. Though, I think by rearranging, you are deemphasizing “my parents” by putting the phrase at the end of the sentence. This may make your parents sad. Do you really want to make your parents sad?
Anyway, it’s not a fail-safe method. Check out this favorite example from the Twittersphere:
The internet had a good chuckle at Obama and Castro supposedly shaking hands on their same-sex marriage date. Sky News obviously wanted to lead with the Mandela tribute, and decided that the next most important item was Obama and Castro shaking hands. Rearranging the order of the items likely wasn’t an option (and probably wouldn’t have helped much, anyway). But the serial comma… THAT could have fit it there.
Still doubting the necessity of the serial comma? I leave you with one last example:
I may be an AP Style follower, but I vehemently disagree with its general dislike of the serial comma. Work with me and you work with the serial comma. Okay? Okay.