Thanks to a Maine trucking lawsuit, the Oxford comma is back in the news.
The controversy? As the New York Times explains, a recent overtime lawsuit hinged on the interpretation of a state law — and whether it should be read as if it had an Oxford comma or not. Of course, including a comma would have made that clear from the beginning.
It's the latest volley in one of those timeless internet arguments. But as the above video shows, the Oxford comma’s usage isn’t the most interesting part about it. The punctuation’s history is more interesting than an Oxford invention — as Jasso Lamberg explained in his 2015 post on the subject, it’s likely that credit for the Oxford comma can be traced back to Herbert Spencer, a classic Victorian generalist who popularized the phrase "survival of the fittest." (If you want to know more about Spencer, the Stanford Encyclopedia provides a typically excellent look at his philosophy and reputation.)
Though Spencer may have disappeared from the popular discourse, his comma has lived on. So next time you argue commas with friends, share a little history about it too. The Oxford comma has been fit enough to survive this long — even if Spencer himself has faded into the history books.