If you somehow missed it, here are three examples of coverage:
The essence: Delivery drivers who work for Oakhurst Dairy, a Portland, Maine-based company, will be entitled to an estimated $13 million in overtime pay after winning a three-year legal dispute with their employer. An appeals judge ruled that lack of a comma made interpretation of the phrasing of an agreement vague.
From one of the stories:
The Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma, is a comma placed immediately before a conjunction such as “and” or “or” in a series of three or more terms, as in: “First, second, and third” versus “First, second and third.”
While generally not used by journalists, the Oxford comma is often used in academic publications. Debate has raged for years about its use — opponents feel the extra comma is unnecessary, but supporters claim it helps resolve ambiguity.
The Chicago Manual of Style, for example, cites the following example: “She took a photograph of her parents, the president, and the vice president.” Without the second comma, she is taking a picture of her parents, who are the president and vice president.
Here’s how the contract was worded:
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 judge ruled that “packing for shipment or distribution of” needed a comma after shipment to separate those elements, as they are two distinct actions: “packing for shipment of, or distribution of:”
Because The Associated Press Stylebook is my primary resource for punctuation questions, I generally do not use the Oxford comma. However, I just completed a website editing project where I recommended that the client employ the Oxford comma throughout its site.
There was detailed information that required the clarity an Oxford comma provides. Considering the expected reading audience and the number of times a second comma was required, I was concerned that readers would be confused if the Oxford commas appeared in a fair number cases but not in others.
This case provides an excellent example of why we have to use care with what we perceive as “grammar rules.” Applying common sense when using punctuation that helps avoid confusion or misinterpretation should determine whether we use a comma or not, a question mark or not, a colon or not.
Thanks to blog readers who paid attention to this news item and who, in turn, made sure I was aware of it.
Have you been in a situation where punctuation — either present or missing — wreaked havoc for a company or individual?
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