The Oxford comma retains its obsessive, tyrannical and overbearing grip on Americans, according to a poll conducted by FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver’s website for people with an unhealthy passion for statistics.
You know the Oxford comma, right? It’s the comma that you put right before the word “and” in a list of three or more things. It’s also called the serial comma.
The Oxford comma won the poll handily, with 57 percent of the survey respondents favoring it and 43 percent and opposing it.
The poll ran on a website called Survey Monkey earlier this month. It presented two simple sentences:
1. It’s important for a person to be honest, kind and loyal.
2. It’s important for a person to be honest, kind, and loyal.
Survey respondents preferred the second, haughtier and more elaborate sentence — the one with the Oxford comma — 57 percent of the time.
Exactly 1,129 Americans responded. (It’s not clear how the respondents were chosen.)
FiveThirtyEight also observes that the people who participated in the poll who regard themselves as awesome grammar experts were substantially more likely to prefer the Oxford comma.
Of the 57 percent of respondents who prefer the Oxford comma, 63 percent of them rate their own grammatical skills as “excellent.” Meanwhile, just 37 percent of the people who are fine without the extra common rate their own grammar as “excellent.”
The poll-loving website sought counsel from a couple of self-proclaimed grammar authorities about the meaning of all of this.
“I suspect it comes down to what people were taught and when,” reflected Merrill Perlman, a Columbia University journalism professor and the proprietor of an editorial consulting firm. “Most of us learned grammar as rules, often accompanied by raps on the knuckle when an ungrammatical sentence escaped our mouths. That can really instill deep loyalty.”
Meanwhile, John McIntyre, who writes a language blog called “You Don’t Say” for The Baltimore Sun, had harsh words for lovers of extra commas.
“Feigned passion about the Oxford comma, when not performed for comic effect, is mere posturing,” he told FiveThirtyEight.