Hemingway Against The Oxford Comma

There is a new meme out there (well, perhaps it’s not new, but it is all over Facebook.)  This meme encourages people to use the Oxford Comma. And while I don’t have particularly strong feelings about the Oxford Comma, the argument being made is that you must use it.  I disagree with this, which is why I have decided to start my own rebuttal Oxford Comma meme: Hemingway Against the Oxford Comma.

My response is simple:

That’s it. A Hemingway quote, the work from which it came and the accompanying statement “Why I don’t use the Oxford Comma.”

There are a few other good ones I am about to generate as well, at the convenient website memegenerator.net. I encourage you to join me if you have been annoyed by this recent insistence that people are fools unless they use The Oxford Comma.  Of course, this is nothing new.  People like getting indignant about this, as evidenced by NPR and The Stranger and this website and Salon.  I believe it is about time that a legitimate argument was staged against the Oxford Comma.

Or, there is the option of not caring about it, as evidenced here:

But seriously, let’s fight for the freedom of choosing, sentence by sentence, whether or not we will use the Oxford Comma.  Let’s fight for Hemingway.

What more can I say?

For the sake of clarity: I am not 100% against Oxford commas, and I am not saying that Hemingway was 100% against them, and I am not saying that you should be 100% against them. If one looks through Hemingway’s work, one will find he uses the Oxford comma more often than he does not.

However, one will also find that he does not use either option very often, as he rarely finds himself needing to use one or the other.

The Hemingway alternative to an Oxford comma situation is often something like this sentence from For Whom the Bell Tolls:

“Living was a horse between your legs and a carbine under one leg and a hill and a valley and a stream with trees along it and the far side of the valley and the hills beyond.”

Or try this on for a size, from A Farewell to Arms, in which he both uses and eschews the Oxford Comma:  “Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates.”

Are you confused? Am I? Is Hemingway? I don’t know.  But here’s another:



  1. I wonder whether or not Christian Bale could or should portray Hemingway in a movie or play? They are (were) both angry,violent and psycho guys as well as smart, worldly, and prone to “moodiness”.
    Does it matter? No, and neither does the commma here.

  2. The first one is a terrible example for this. It’s actually grammatically incorrect as is, and would STILL be grammatically incorrect with a comma.

    It’s a list of two verbs, and the 2nd verb applies to 2 nouns. So it’s basically like two lists of two things, which means it should be: “bathing and playing some golf and much bridge.” (bathing and playing) (some golf and much bridge).

    If it said playing some golf and playing much bridge, then it would be an instance of either using or not using an oxford comma.

    1. It’s not grammatically incorrect at all. “He was bathing, playing SOME golf and MUCH bridge.” I actually think the Oxford comma would make it less readable, but this is honestly the first instance of a sentence in which I’ve noticed that quality.

  3. The first example would actually be incorrect with an Oxford comma, so it’s not a good example for not using them. If you think of it as a list, you have to consider whether or not removing the clause before the comma would make sense before you add it. In this case, “bathing, playing some golf, and much bridge” doesn’t make sense because “bathing, and much bridge” wouldn’t make sense.

    Also, Hemingway in general is kind of a bad example of not using Oxford commas. In fact, most of his grammar would be pretty deplorable if it weren’t for the fact that he bends grammar rules on purpose (and does so successfully) to create more poetic prose. He tends to use commas to imply a pause more so than he does to separate items in a list, as shown in the example about the wine shop. If you read it out loud, using the commas as markers for when to take short pauses in your speech, the sentence becomes quite beautiful because it has a poetic rhythm to it.

    Rather than being for or against the Oxford comma, why not think about what you want to communicate and just use whatever makes your sentence make sense? For example, “we invited the strippers, Hitler, and Stalin” means something quite different from “we invited the strippers, Hitler and Stalin”. However, “the Things, Stuff, and Doodads Committee” is pretty much the same thing as “the Things, Stuff and Doodads Committee” so it really doesn’t matter if you add the comma or not.

    Just a thought.

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