The Meaning Behind “Oxford Comma” by Vampire Weekend and Their Shout-Out to Lil Jon

When Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut appeared in 2008, it was immediately divisive.

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They leaned into the controversy by writing a song attacking the very thing they were accused of. “Oxford Comma” became one of their defining songs, but it also delivered a shout-out to rapper Lil Jon.

Meanwhile, the singer and guitarist Ezra Koenig’s preppy dress code made the “elitist” attacks more inviting. But Vampire Weekend’s sunny Afropop and peppy punk rock share both homemade and complex qualities. The aesthetic of stuffy Ivy Leaguers playing slacker rock happens against the backdrop of well-read dudes whose musicianship hides behind minimalist projection.

“Oxford Comma” is an abstract maze of punctuation, class anxiety, and the godfather of crunk.

Class Snobs

Koenig said “Oxford Comma” is about elitism. The band members met while attending Columbia University, and Koenig found inspiration for the song as he observed fellow students.

Who gives a f–k about an Oxford comma?
I’ve seen those English dramas, too; they’re cruel
So if there’s any other way
To spell the word, it’s fine with me, with me

Said Koenig, “I’d seen there was this Facebook group at Columbia called Students for the Preservation of the Oxford Comma, and that was the first time I’d heard of an Oxford comma. And that appealed to me in a lot of ways, because it has Oxford in it, and I like anything Oxford: Oxford button-downs, Oxford University, all that stuff. But then the fact that it’s a comma, the combination of something like really regal and, at the same time, absurd. I remember sitting at my parents’ piano, and that was the first thing that came to my mind: ‘Who gives a f–k about an Oxford comma?’”

Check your handbook; it’s no trick
Take the ChapStick, put it on your lips
Crack a smile, adjust my tie
Know your boyfriend, unlike other guys

Vampire Weekend’s debut was met with suspicion because they had formed at an Ivy League school. However, their self-titled album was too good and too catchy to ignore.

The album combines punk rock and African music and led the next wave of New York guitar bands, following The Strokes and The Walkmen.

The Oxford Comma

Koenig begins the song with a forceful question: Who gives a f–k about an Oxford comma? Dropping the f-word might seem excessive, but the Oxford comma is a polarizing punctuation mark.

Here’s a quick refresher on its usage.

The Oxford comma separates the last item in a list before the ending conjunction “and,” “or,” or “but.”

With: “bananas, yogurt, milk, and eggs.”

Without: “bananas, yogurt, milk and eggs.”  

Though it’s a tiny mark, many people have strong feelings about it.  

According to Oxford University Press, the Oxford comma—also known as the series comma—is meant to “resolve ambiguity.” It’s common in book publishing; however, The New York Times and the Associated Press generally omit it.

American Songwriter uses the series comma because why risk ambiguity in serious matters of rock and roll?

English Teacher

After college, Koenig taught eighth-grade English in Brooklyn, New York. He said, “When you spend so much time trying to get kids to write in Standard American English, you’re bound to start questioning the importance.”

He further explained to Vanity Fair, “I think the song is more about not giving a f–k than about Oxford commas.”

When asked if there were other grammatical tools—like the Spanish question mark or the zeugma—he might write a song about, Koenig said, “I don’t know if we’ll ever drop another punctuation jam, but I like the Spanish question mark the best of those. Zeugma brings to mind unpleasant Yiddish words.”

Lil Jon and Truth

“Oxford Comma” builds while Koenig asks whomever he addresses, Why would you lie? He finishes the thought by singing, Lil Jon, he always tells the truth. He repeats the refrain while tacking on an abstract line about the United Nations before stating that Lil Jon always tells the truth.

In 2014, Rolling Stone asked Lil Jon about the shout-out, and the Atlanta rapper said, “Yeah. They’re cool cats. I like their first album—the one they mentioned me on—and I got the next one, but I never did listen to it. We’re cool, though.”

Lil Jon, flattered by the honorable mention, sent Vampire Weekend a case of Crunk Juice to show his gratitude.

Nothing but the truth from Lil Jon.

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Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for iHeartMedia

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