A wry view of life for the world-weary

Comma Of The Week

For grammarians, and literary pedants, the Oxford comma represents a bit of a battle ground. It is a comma which is the last in a series of two or more items and usually precedes a conjunction like and or or. I prefer to use it only where there is the potential for some ambiguity in the sentence but some sprinkle it around like confetti. The classic example is the title of Lynne Truss’ 2003 bestseller, Eats shoots and leaves. The addition of a comma before and transforms the meaning of the sentence.

All very academic, you may say, but the want of an Oxford comma has just scooped 75 drivers in Maine back-dated overtime time payments worth some $10m. The drivers of Oakhurst Dairy claimed that their job, delivering dairy products, was not one of those functions excluded under Maine’s overtime law which prohibits the payment of overtime for employees engaged in “the canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of perishable goods”.

The Appeal court ruled that because there wasn’t a comma after packing, it meant that packing and distributing were not separate activities and what was being excluded by the law was the single activity of packing.

A moot point, for sure, but one that has brought good fortune to the drivers who, doubtless, have toasted the continuing health of the Oxford comma.


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