Wednesday, April 5, 2017
The Oxford Comma: Use the Damn Thing!!
Oxford comma: A comma placed immediately before the coordinating conjunction (usually and or or) in a series of three or more terms.
A couple weeks ago an interesting story about a milk producer, some of it's truck drivers, and comma hit the news.
The milk producer claims that the state of Maine clearly exempts truck drivers carrying perishable foods from overtime pay with this following clause in state employment regulations:
The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:
The truck drivers claim that they are not exempt from overtime pay since they don't pack anything for shipment or distribution, they only deliver.
And a high-court judge has agreed with the truck drivers.
If the clause had been written with the Oxford comma to read:
The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment, or distribution of:
then this small privately owned milk company would not be looking at the potential of having to come up with some $10 million dollars in back pay!
To be fair, the milk company may have a case of their own against the state of Maine since the Maine Legislative Drafting Manual states: “Although authorities on punctuation may differ, when drafting Maine law or rules, don’t use a comma between the penultimate and the last item of a series,”
This despite the fact that the only modern English language stylebook that says don't use that last comma is from the Associated Press. A news agency that, at the time of it's inception, had to pay for every single character, including punctuation, that it used in telegraphs and in print. (And in the 2013 60th anniversary revision of their stylebook they still say don't use it.)
Me? Editors can red-line me all they want, but I'm playing it safe and using the damn thing!
Oh, by the way, if you still don't think comma use is a worthy topic of conversation, consider this:
The Library of Congress displays the ratified version of the Second Amendment and it reads:
A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.
Yet the original version apparently sent out to the states for consideration of ratification, and also the hand-written one on display in the National Archives, reads:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
In a rather tortured way, for grammar-ists the extra two commas in the second version in effect make that statement read:
A well regulated Militia shall not be infringed.
Anti-gun ownership-ists claim that the three comma version was the one sent out to states to be considered (Although there is also evidence that suggests some of the handwritten copies sent out had two, or even just one comma.) and the ensuing legal fight over whether the Second Amendment protects Militia or people has cost all of us untold millions of our tax dollars.