Chalk outlines are likely being drawn around this blog as you read this.
A team of CSI’s – Comma Scene Investigators – has surely initiated a forensic review of each line from each post and outlining where commas are considered missing.
If I ever was taught the ways of the Oxford Comma as a youth I don’t recall.
Which isn’t that egregious a crime since I don’t recall what I had for dinner last night.
You could even build a case around the probability I never even heard of the Oxford Comma until a few days ago when word came from Maine a class-action lawsuit about overtime pay for truck drivers could cost the dairy company in question an estimated $10 million.
That’s a lot of moo-la.
Oakhurst Dairy’s description of what was exempt from overtime pay was even written following the comma guidelines set forth by Maine’s legislature…guidelines that specifically say don’t use the Oxford Comma.
The Oxford Comma is also known as the Serial Comma. Serial Killer Comma is more appropriate in this instance for its alleged criminal absence will kill some short-term profitability for Oakhurst if they do eventually lose this on appeal. (This decision reversed a lower court decision siding with the company)
An employee was not to be eligible for overtime pay if they were involved in:
The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:
- Agricultural produce;
- Meat and fish products; and
- Perishable foods.
The prosecution’s punctuation play was with no comma after “shipment” it meant the dairy drivers have been eligible for overtime. A comma after “shipment” would have made it clear (maybe) the law disallowed OT for distributors of perishable foods…AKA dairy drivers.
Maine’s Legislative Drafting Manual not only states to shun the Oxford Comma (the final comma used before a coordinating conjunction in a list of three or more items as provided within Oxford University style guidelines) but adds this piece of evidence about commas in general: “The most misused and misunderstood punctuation marks in legal drafting and, perhaps, the English language.”
(Did they need two commas in that sentence? Perhaps…)
While I never knew I was committing a crime in the eyes of some I remain more surprised at the anger and comma-calling surrounding this subject. There appears to be a lot of folks out there who swear by the Oxford Comma…and swear at you if your opinion of its requirement differs.
The band “Vampire Weekend” released a single a few years back titled “Oxford Comma.” They swore over its very existence.
Consider me up-to-speed now…the debate has apparently been quite passionate on this topic for a long time. It’s a tad embarrassing feeling as if I’m last on the (crime) scene considering I possess a degree in Journalism.
I think after looking into this the two factions can be described as follows…
Team Oxford Comma claims using an Oxford Comma 100% of the time takes out any and all ambiguity you might have in being understood. Total comma clarity.
Team Comma Sense (of which I am a member…now) claims the use of any comma is defined from sentence to sentence and overuse of commas can lead to less effective communication. No comma redundancy.
The conversation has apparently been swirling around for ages but I swear before the court of public opinion it’s the first I’ve heard of it.
I’m surprised someone from Team Oxford Comma hasn’t called me out before now.
I’m not surprised an American legal document is being picked apart for its punctuation.
We Americans do seem to be taking up loud, passionate positions and discoursing away on everything these days. Some subjects would appear to be universally important to most…but importance is indeed relative.
I am proud to be a member of Team Comma Sense but look forward to any debates…arguments…to the contrary.
Do you feel I’ve committed a crime by not lawyering up with Team Oxford Comma?
Do keep in mind for any closing argument the evidence needs to be beyond a shadow of a doubt to secure a favorable decision, verdict or conviction.