Consistency, punctuation and the oxford comma

One of the most popular posts on this blog is the one where I suggest foregoing consistency when using (or not) the oxford comma in UI.

Did I really suggest punctuating inconsistently?

Yes. Yes, I did.

Readers don’t care about your company’s consistency; they care about clarity. With vocabulary, being inconsistent is a great way to make the text unclear: “This word means X here but Y there” is like a mean trick you’re playing on your readers. So you rightly insist on consistent word use.

But readers don’t learn your punctuation in the way they learn your vocabulary. Punctuation, to the readers, is like a good butler: they rely on it without quite noticing it’s there. They’re not internalising how it does what it does; they simply expect punctuation to make things clear without getting in their way. And an oxford comma can’t meet just one of those requirements. Either it makes things clearer and is therefore not in the way, or it’s unnecessary and is therefore very much in the way.

And if you think it never makes things clearer – You’re wrong. But you know which legal decision I’m going to link you to, so I won’t.

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