Victory for the Oxford Comma

by wjw on March 15, 2017

enhanced-buzz-19599-1389811749-10I stand proudly with the Oxford comma, as it stands for reason, clarity, and mitigates against incertitude.  (Try reading that sentence without the Oxford comma and see where it gets you.)

I am pleased to know that the US Court of Appeals agrees with me, insofar as they ruled that a missing Oxford comma was the deciding factor in the case of Kevin O’Connor v. the Oakhurst Dairy.

But without the comma, wrote US appeals judge David J. Barron, the law is ambiguous as to whether distribution is a separate activity, or whether the whole last clause—”packing for shipment or distribution”—is one activity, meaning only the people who pack the dairy products are exempt. The drivers do distribute, but do not pack, the perishable food . . . 

Oakhurst, for its part, had argued that “distribution” was separate in the language of the law, meaning its drivers did not qualify for overtime.

In an impressively geeky retort, the drivers responded that all the other exempted activities were listed as gerunds, words ending with “-ing”: Canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing. The word “distribution,” they argued, was therefore not intended to be one of the items in the list.

Good to know that the truck drivers understand proper grammar and sentence structure.  Would that everyone did.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Mastadge March 16, 2017 at 2:46 pm

Has that first sentence an Oxford comma? Maybe if it read, “it stands for reason, clarity, and mitigation of incertitude.” As it is the problem might be parallel construction: “as it stand for reason and clarity and it mitigates against incertitude.”

Anyway. I’m completely adogmatic on this issue. I support the Oxford comma when it clarifies meaning, and don’t mind its absence if the sentence works without it.

Anonymous March 16, 2017 at 5:32 pm

The Oxford comma is the comma that goes before the article, and in my example, it went before “and.” Without it the sentence would read, “it stands for reason, clarity and mitigation of incertitude,” which would imply that the incertitude has been clarified as well as mitigated.

And yes, you can rephrase it to make it just as clear, but why? All you need to do is add a comma.

T. England March 17, 2017 at 4:17 pm

I’m with Mastadge. Use the thing when it’s necessary, otherwise stop disrupting the flow of the sentence with unnecessary punctuation. Also, be a tough editor on yourself to make sure you’re saying what you want to say and not let stray commas dictate your future. Kudos to the truck drivers.

Jim Strickland March 18, 2017 at 2:00 am

Cheers for the court sending the message: “Write laws clearly, you gits!”


Jerry March 23, 2017 at 3:19 am

Truth, Justice, and the American Way!

It has been observed that there are two kinds of people in this country: those who know what a split infinitive is, and those who don’t. . . and of the two, those who don’t are. . . MUCH happier.

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