Having trouble viewing this message? Click here to view it online.
To unsubscribe or change contact details, scroll to the bottom and follow the link.

GrammarBook.com

Your #1 Source for Grammar and Punctuation

Oxford Comma Dispute Settled

Eleven months ago, in our newsletter of March 29, 2017, we passed along to you the newspaper article "Lack of Comma Costs Company Millions in Dispute." Our Rule 1 of Commas discusses the value of the Oxford comma in a series of three or more items. Our rule allows writers to exercise discretion as to whether to omit the Oxford comma in a simple series. However, in some cases, clarity demands that the Oxford comma be included in order to avoid misunderstandings.

There could hardly be a better illustration of where a misunderstanding could have been avoided by including an Oxford comma than in the lawsuit brought by the Oakhurst Dairy truck drivers.

In the article below, you will read how the case was recently settled and how the law was rewritten. We wonder whether you agree with the way the legislators revised the law. We agree with the attorney in the article who stated that the meaning would have been clear had the Oxford comma been inserted after the word shipment. However, the Maine legislature decided instead to insert semicolons after each item in the series. We suppose that clarifies matters, but it sure seems like overkill.

Our Rule 3 of Semicolons (which is consistent with guidance found in leading references such as the Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press Stylebook) states, "Use a semicolon to separate units of a series when one or more of the units contain commas." We don't see any commas in any of the individual units of the series. Why use all of these semicolons when inserting the comma after shipment would have sufficed? At any rate, this is an excellent example of how proper punctuation really does matter. At least it matters to us "grammar goons," as we're called in the article below.

Oxford comma dispute is settled as Maine drivers get $5 million

Ending a case that electrified punctuation pedants, grammar goons and comma connoisseurs, Oakhurst Dairy settled an overtime dispute with its drivers that hinged entirely on the lack of an Oxford comma in state law.

The dairy company in Portland, Maine, agreed to pay $5 million to the drivers, according to court documents filed Thursday.

The relatively small-scale dispute gained international notoriety last year when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit ruled that the missing comma created enough uncertainty to side with the drivers, granting those who love the Oxford comma a chance to run a victory lap across the internet.

But the resolution means there will be no ruling from the land’s highest courts on whether the Oxford comma—the often-skipped second comma in a series like "A, B, and C"—is an unnecessary nuisance or a sacred defender of clarity, as its fans and detractors endlessly debate. (In most cases, The New York Times stylebook discourages the Oxford comma, so called because it was traditionally used by the Oxford University Press.)

It appears the Maine Legislature has learned its lesson, at least. It revised the disputed state law last year to end ambiguity by adding new punctuation—but not in the way you might be thinking.

The case began in 2014, when three truck drivers sued the dairy for what they said was four years’ worth of overtime pay they had been denied. Maine law requires time-and-a-half pay for each hour worked after 40 hours, but it carved out exemptions for:

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

(1) Agricultural produce.

(2) Meat and fish products.

(3) Perishable foods.

What followed the last comma in the first sentence was the crux of the matter: "packing for shipment or distribution of." The court ruled that it was not clear whether the law exempted the distribution of the three categories that followed, or if it exempted "packing for" the shipment or distribution of them.

Had there been a comma after "shipment," the meaning would have been clear. David G. Webbert, a lawyer who represented the drivers, stated it plainly in an interview in March: "That comma would have sunk our ship."

Since then, the Maine Legislature addressed the punctuation problem. Here’s how it reads now:

The canning; processing; preserving; freezing; drying; marketing; storing; packing for shipment; or distributing of:

(1) Agricultural produce.

(2) Meat and fish products.

(3) Perishable foods.

So now we get to replace Oxford comma pedantry with semicolon pedantry. A message to Maine’s reviser of statutes was not immediately answered Friday.

But as far as the actual overtime dispute goes, Webbert said the case ended well.

"We are pleased the matter was resolved to the satisfaction of all parties," he said in an email.

—Daniel Victor, New York Times News Service

View this article on our website

Free BONUS Quiz for You!

[[firstname]], because you are a subscriber to the newsletter, you get access to one of the Subscribers-Only Quizzes. Click here to take a Commas Quiz and get your scores and explanations instantly!

We will be adding many more quizzes this year to our already substantial list of quizzes. If you have suggestions for topics we have not yet covered, please send us a message at help@grammarbook.com.

Hundreds of Additional Quizzes
at Your Fingertips

Subscribe now to receive hundreds of additional English usage quizzes not found anywhere else!

For Instructors and Employers, you may assign quizzes to your students and employees and have their scores tallied and organized automatically! Let GrammarBook.com take the hassle out of teaching English!

"Fun to test my Skills"

"The explanations really help ... thanks!"

"I download the quizzes for my students who don't have computer access."

Find out more about our
subscription packages

Don't need all the quizzes?

You can now purchase the same quizzes individually for ONLY 99¢ each.

Purchase yours here.

If you think you have found an error in a quiz, please email us at help@grammarbook.com

The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation


by Jane Straus, Lester Kaufman, and Tom Stern

The Authority on English Grammar! Eleventh Edition Now Available

An indispensable tool for busy professionals, teachers, students, homeschool families, editors, writers, and proofreaders.

Available in print AND as an e-Book! Over 2,000 copies are purchased every month!

The publisher of The Blue Book, Jossey-Bass, A Wiley brand, is offering a 35 percent discount for those of you who order the book through Wiley.com. Shipping and tax are not included. Simply go to bit.ly/1996hkA and use discount code E9X4A.

Offer expires December 31, 2018.

Order Your Copy Today!
 

Wordplay

English In A Snap:
68 One-Minute English Usage Videos FREE

Learn all about who and whom, affect and effect, subjects and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and much more by just sitting back and enjoying these easy-to-follow lessons. Tell your colleagues (and boss), children, teachers, and friends. Click here to watch.

Forward this e-newsletter to your friends and colleagues.

If you received this FREE weekly e-newsletter from a friend, click here to have it sent to you each week.

Look for more Hot Tips from GrammarBook.com next week.

Miss a recent newsletter? Click here to view past editions.