Do Any Bands Give a @#$% About the Oxford Comma? No. No, They Do Not.

Slate's Culture Blog
Sept. 10 2013 4:36 PM

Do Any Bands Give a @#$% About the Oxford Comma? 

earth_open
Open your eyes to better punctuating, guys.

Now, Then & Forever, the first album from Earth, Wind & Fire in eight years, is out today. Well adjusted music fans may wonder whether EWF’s famed horn section can still bring it or whether Philip Bailey can still hit the high notes, but here at Brow Beat we have a different question: What do pop musicians have against the Oxford comma?

David Haglund David Haglund

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.

You probably know the Vampire Weekend hit “Oxford Comma,” in which Ezra Koenig asks, “Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?” Koenig has said that the song was inspired by a Columbia University Facebook group called Students for the Preservation of the Oxford Comma—and he claims that the song “is more about not giving a fuck than about Oxford commas.” But Koenig’s disdain for this bit of punctuation—which is disregarded by publications that should know better, but agreed upon by right-thinking usage nerds everywhere—appears to be shared by all of his professional peers. By calling their new album Now, Then & Forever, Earth, Wind & Fire seem intent on rubbing it in.

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Consider: In our survey of 15 pop groups—from Blood, Sweat & Tears to Phantom, Rocker & Slick and beyond (the full list can be found below)—we did not find a single official usage of the Oxford comma in a musical act’s name.

Granted, we haven’t searched everything; perhaps these bands’ legal contracts, say, are more attentive to good punctuational sense. But the verdict of their album covers and official websites is clear: They will not put a comma after the penultimate band member’s name.

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Even Peter, Paul and Mary laugh mockingly at good punctuational style.

Most also favor ampersands (Crosby, Stills & Nash, for instance, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer), in the thinking, I suspect, that loopy logograms, like missing commas, give off a rakish vibe befitting rock ’n’ rollers. But even those groups that favor spelling words out (Peter, Paul and Mary; Dino, Desi and Billy) resolutely avoid serial commas for some baffling reason.

It’s worth noting that most of them are pretty inconsistent about their comma usage: Even the unfailingly respectable Peter, Paul and Mary occasionally go by Peter Paul and Mary, letting all punctuation blow in the wind. Which is a cautionary lesson to us all: Once you drop Oxford commas, what other commas might be next?

Finally, while I hate to reinforce stereotypes about musical genres, I must point out that the only Oxford comma I have found in a musical act’s name appears on the snappy cover of Lambert, Hendricks, & Ross’ self-titled 1960 LP, also known as The Hottest New Group in Jazz. Granted, those sophisticated vocalists were spotty in their subsequent comma usage; even musicians with good instincts also need attentive editors.

If Earth, Wind & Fire or any of the groups below decide to hire some grammatical help, I have a few leads.

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