I was recently introduced to the song “Oxford Comma” by the band Vampire Weekend. The opening line is, “Who gives a fu** about about an oxford comma?” I had to look up the definition of the oxford comma and found that it is commonly known as the serial comma and “is an optional comma before the word ‘and’ at the end of a list” [Oxford Dictionary]. This made me really think about what the meaning of the song is. The conclusion that I came to is that it is making a statement about all of the proper grammar that we learn and how important these constructs are when we are actually trying to convey an idea. I believe that understanding grammar and being able to clearly convey an idea is very important, however, academics can sometimes forget that the end goal is to simply convey an idea and as long as this objective is realized successfully, the grammar is insignificant.
I feel that educated people often look at people who may not use proper english, either using slang terms or a regional dialect, as being less intelligent. This is a mistake and I would argue that a person who is thinking critically and conveying their thoughts clearly is intelligent regardless of how ‘traditionally improper’ their language is.
I am reminded of Alan Alda’s communicating science workshops and his goal of getting scientists to convey their ideas using simple concepts and easily understood language. I think that it is so important for educated people to realize that the language they use can lead to either inclusion or exclusion and it is a choice that they must make. I firmly believe that the more inclusive that we can be as a society, the better all of our lives will be.