Give Me the Oxford Comma or Give Me Death! Fiercest Battles in the History of Grammar

Stop the presses! Stop what you're doing! Just stop! We have some breaking news, and it's sure to shock and awe: the AP Stylebook has decided "over" is acceptable in place of "more than"!

Seriously, for writers and editors, being able to write things like "There are over a million reasons grammar is amazing" vs. "There are more than a million reasons grammar is amazing" is a pretty big deal—and many are fired up about the world-rocking change. Some are ecstatic, calling it an exciting shift in touch with the way people naturally write. Others are less enthused, sharing feedback such as "Breathing into a paper bag," "Noooo!" and (our favorite) "More than my dead body."

The drama is reminiscent of other epic wars waged by word fetishists through the course of time. Here are three of our favorites, because we admit it: we think grammar is hot.

Round 1: AP Style Guide vs. Chicago Manual of Style!

These two behemoths of the style-guide world have long tussled for dominance in the hearts and minds of editors. The AP Guide is leaner (just over 300 pages) and generally geared toward professionals in news and public relations, while the Chicago manual is a monster (nearly 1,000 pages!) and is often used for books, periodicals and academic writing. Both, though, often get debated in editorial offices. And at times, this "debate" has turned ugly.

In 2010, the Onion ran a story shared by pretty much every chuckling, head-nodding writer the world over: "4 Copy Editors Killed In Ongoing AP Style, Chicago Manual Gang Violence." In addition to its amazing headline, the story mentioned graffiti tags in which "anti-social" had been corrected to "antisocial." It may have been the best thing ever produced online.

Last year, the incredible @FakeAPStylebook Twitter feed (if you're not following this, what are you doing with your life?!) was #Hacked with the tweet "CHICAGO MANUAL RULES SUPREME." Burn!

And then, of course, there are the fired-up comments of online opinionators, as in this feisty comment thread that takes AP to task with complaints such as "AP style is officially ridiculously stupid," "Dear Associated Press: STOP BEING DISAGREEABLE" and "I am chained to the piece of crap."

On the other side are this blog's anti-Chicago rantings: "I am in the process of dealing with the stupid translation of my article into the stupid form that is Chicago Style . . . I have successfully done six (6) of the approximately 4,000 notes that this style will require of me. I want to punch (or kill) someone (myself? the publisher? who?)."

So, which do we think is better? Let's just say we prefer "antisocial."

Round 2: Oxford Comma Zealots vs. Anti-Oxford Comma Zealots!

We hesitate to even dive into this battle, which may be the most bloody in grammar history. First, a quick primer: the Oxford comma is used to separate things in lists (e.g. "red, white, and blue" vs. "red, white and blue"). Some are obsessed with it, and some think it's utter rubbish.

On the pro-Oxford comma side are those who point to rather hilarious examples such as a book inscription that reads "This is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God." (What a household that would be to grow up in!) This wonderful cartoon that involves Stalin and JFK as strippers highlights a similar mix-up. Also on the pro side: a nerdfest Facebook page.

Anti-Oxford comma proponents include journalist and author James Thurber, who once complained to the New Yorker that a serial comma in "the red, white, and blue" made "the flag seem rained on" and gave it a "furled look." More recently, England's Environment Secretary sent a missive about grammar that included an attack on the Oxford comma, a move that earned him the nickname "Minister of Semicolons." The anti team additionally includes an entire Vampire Weekend song.

More proof things can get heated: When I told my boyfriend I prefer to not use the Oxford comma, he said "You're a monster!" followed by "You better hope I don't meet a nice girl who likes the Oxford comma." This sh*t gets personal!

Round 3: Stodgy Grammarians vs. Hip Techies!

The AP Guide in particular has been rather hilariously behind the times when it comes to tech lingo: One imagines the book's bespectacled middle-aged editors sitting around a table, discussing what to do about "The Facebook" and "hash tags." Only in 2010, and after much fighting, did editors accept that it should be "website," not "Web site," and for reasons unbeknownst to millennials, they continue to insist that "Internet" be capitalized.

On the bright side, as part of the new AP changes, editors did get hip enough to add "selfie" to the book. Though we're not sure that's a good thing.

What do you prefer: AP or Chicago? Oxford comma or no? Tech resistance or tech hipness? Share below. C'mon, nerds: you know you have an opinion on this.

Image of Chicago Manual-loving bull locking horns with AP Stylebook-loving bull: Wikimedia Commons


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