A lack of a comma resolves a dispute

 

A comma can make quite a difference to the meaning of a sentence, and one of them helped resolve a labour dispute.

First some examples of the use of the Oxford or serial comma. What is the Oxford comma?

The presence or lack of a comma before and or or in a list of three or more items is the subject of much debate. Such a comma is known as a serial comma. For a century it has been part of Oxford University Press style to retain or impose this last comma consistently, to the extent that the convention has also come to be called the Oxford comma. However, the style is also used by many other publishers, both in the UK and elsewhere. Examples of the serial comma are:

mad, bad, and dangerous to know
a thief, a liar, and a murderer
a government of, by, and for the people

Grammarly shows where an Oxford comma can just be a matter of style:

Please bring me a pencil, eraser, and notebook.
Please bring me a pencil, eraser and notebook.

And it can make a difference in meaning:

I love my parents, Lady Gaga and Humpty Dumpty.
I love my parents, Lady Gaga, and Humpty Dumpty.

Some more:

Among those interviewed were Merle Haggard’s two ex-wives, Krist Kristofferson and Robert Duvall.

This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.

Highlights of Peter Ustinov’s global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800 year old demigod and a dildo collector.

Now for the labour dispute, which is a bit harder going. The Guardian: Oxford comma helps drivers win dispute about overtime pay

In Maine, the much-disputed Oxford comma has helped a group of dairy drivers in a dispute with a company about overtime pay.

In a judgment that will delight Oxford comma enthusiasts everywhere, a US court of appeals sided with delivery drivers for Oakhurst Dairy because the lack of a comma made part of Maine’s overtime laws too ambiguous.

The state’s law says the following activities do not count for overtime pay:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

(1) Agricultural produce;
(2) Meat and fish products; and
(3) Perishable foods.

The drivers argued, due to a lack of a comma between “packing for shipment” and “or distribution”, the law refers to the single activity of “packing”, not to “packing” and “distribution” as two separate activities. As the drivers distribute – but do not pack – the goods, this would make them eligible for overtime pay.

Previously, a district court had ruled in the dairy company’s favour, who argued that the legislation “unambiguously” identified the two as separate activities exempt from overtime pay. But the appeals judge sided with the drivers.

Circuit judge David J. Barron wrote:

We conclude that the exemption’s scope is actually not so clear in this regard. And because, under Maine law, ambiguities in the state’s wage and hour laws must be construed liberally in order to accomplish their remedial purpose, we adopt the drivers’ narrower reading of the exemption.

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16 Comments

  1. Corky

     /  March 18, 2017

    l always say you can’t go wrong using good grammar Saw a programme once where a husband killed his wife after a fax he read implied she was having an affair. She wasn’t, a missing comma gave the fax a completely erroneous meaning. He cried like a pup with fleas when he found out he’d be doing life because of a comma.

    Reply
    • Kitty Catkin

       /  March 18, 2017

      Er, that’s punctuation, not grammar.

      Reply
      • Corky

         /  March 18, 2017

        Crikey, no wonder you are always on my case. Does it matter?

        Reply
        • Blazer

           /  March 18, 2017

          it could be worse…Iceberg,a.k.a Elipses In Absentia would be having an …orgasm over an error ..like this.

          Reply
          • Corky

             /  March 18, 2017

            ”Iceberg,a.k.a Elipses ”

            Yes, Ok. I was rather hoping for more illustrious critics.

            But its saturaday nite..what the hell.

            Reply
  2. Kitty Catkin

     /  March 18, 2017

    The Merle Haggard one could have read ‘….Robert Duvall, Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard’s two ex-wives.’ I can’t really imagine anyone wanting to see the two exes.

    There have been some hideous uses of – when words cannot be printed in full on a line.

    ‘Nothing becomes a leg-
    end like Glamatex.’ (i have this one in one of my old magazines)

    I have also seen
    hum-
    buggery

    and

    mans-
    laughter.

    The thought of someone being convicted for mans-laughter is too funny.

    Reply
  3. Conspiratoor

     /  March 18, 2017

    Good post
    Periods to close a para have become passe in the era of online comms. A simple line break suffices. Personally I find an open unended sentence incredibly liberating and quite sexy

    And like blazer I look forward to the occasional visit from the legendary Ellipsis Man. He has turned me on to the power of a …well placed ellipsis

    Reply
  4. Gezza

     /  March 18, 2017

    That’s the Iceberg theory down the dunny. 😕

    Reply
  5. Maggy Wassilieff

     /  March 18, 2017

    As we are talking about a bit of US legislation it is probably more appropriate to refer to the serial comma as the Harvard Comma.
    I began my editorial life on the employing the Oxford comma religiously. Then the style began to change to one whereby the Oxford comma would only be employed if there was any likelihood of ambiguity. Now most folks wouldn’t recognise an Oxford comma if it was staring them in the face.

    Reply
  6. Maggy Wassilieff

     /  March 18, 2017

    As we are talking about a bit of US legislation it is probably more appropriate to refer to the serial comma as the Harvard Comma.
    I began my editorial life employing the Oxford comma religiously. Then the style began to change to one whereby the Oxford comma would only be employed if there was any likelihood of ambiguity. Now most folks wouldn’t recognise an Oxford comma if it was staring them in the face.

    Reply
  7. patupaiarehe

     /  March 18, 2017

    Funny. I’m going to ‘bite my tongue’, on this thread. simply because I might be accused of ‘trolling’….

    Reply
  8. Corky

     /  March 18, 2017

    I wise decision.

    Reply

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