The Oxford Comma Reigns Supreme – Here Comes the Law

If you’ve been following us for a while, you know that we’re huge fans of the Oxford comma. As we often like to say, “You can have my Oxford comma when you pry it from my cold, dead, and lifeless hands.”

Whoever said this must be feeling pretty good about himself right now – and we are, too.

What’s going on?

You see, the Oxford comma isn’t just a punctuation mark that academics, writers, and grammar trolls argue about. It’s not just something that gets you hundreds – thousands – of likes or shares on social media.

It’s got its place in the real world.

Don’t believe me?

Ask some dairy drivers in Maine who just got awarded some (I assume) pretty good compensation, thanks to the Oxford comma.

As the story goes, the drivers were looking for overtime pay. However, the labor law explicitly states some activities that don’t qualify for overtime pay. Included in this list is distribution (driving).

Luckily for the drivers who sued their company, the person who wrote the law either slipped up or doesn’t believe in the power of the all-mighty Oxford comma.

The section in question:

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

  1. Agricultural produce;
  2. Meat and fish product; and
  3. Perishable foods

Spot the error.

Because of that teeny weeny bit of punctuation, the court ruled in favor of the drivers. In spite of the law, the missing comma made it so that driving to deliver the goods mentioned qualifies for overtime pay. I’m sure companies are now poring over legal documents to make sure there is no missing comma that can cost them money.

While the mistake is found in a government document, I’m sure companies are now poring over legal documents to make sure there is no missing comma that can cost them money.

So, where’s the mistake? You tell me, and why don’t we discuss this ruling in the comments?

Run your business smoothly with these tools for freelancers.






7 responses
  1. Deborah Meinecke Avatar
    Deborah Meinecke

    Poring should be pouring.

    1. banjax Avatar

      Why? Is this a thing legal types do, pour stuff over documents?

    2. ElFo Avatar

      To quote As a verb, to pore is used with through or over and means that you are absorbed in the study of something or that you are reading something intensely.

    3. Noemi Tasarra-Twigg Avatar
      Noemi Tasarra-Twigg

      Hi Deborah,

      I’m afraid there’s no typo here. It is “poring”. As ELFo said, to pore is to go through something. In this case, documents. Thanks for dropping by!

  2. Jeet Avatar

    There should be a comma after ‘packing for shipment’.

  3. Arija Berzitis Avatar
    Arija Berzitis

    It is the use of “or” in the list instead of “and”–making only one of the list parts apply to overtime but not all of them. Without the Oxford comma, and using “or,” each item is negated by all the others and does not fall under the rule of overtime pay in this list. To make them all apply, you need to separate the list and make them all apply by including the Oxford comma and by changing “or” to “and.”

  4. Ritabrata Chakrabarty Avatar
    Ritabrata Chakrabarty

    I read they decided never to use a comma again and use a semicolon instead for all lists henceforth. You think that will keep them safe from English grammar’s slippery ways?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.