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Sunday, November 19, 2023

Why the Serial Comma Is So Essential

Who cares concerning the Oxford comma?

Traditionally, the reply has been grammar nerds, Strunk & White, and those that comply with the notorious Chicago versus AP writing fashion information debate.

And after this lawsuit just a few years in the past, we added dairy driver to the listing.

That’s as a result of an appellate court docket dominated in favor of Maine dairy drivers in a labor dispute that hinged on the oft-debated piece of punctuation.

For anybody who’s ever puzzled what all of the fuss is about over Oxford commas, the circuit choose’s 2017 opinion says all of it:

“For need of a comma, we’ve got this case.”

Barron, Circuit Decide

Let’s get into why the oxford comma could make such a distinction

What’s the Oxford Comma or the Serial Comma?

For these in want of a grammar guidelines refresh, right here’s a fast overview.

Generally referred to as the serial comma, the Oxford comma is a comma positioned between the final two gadgets in a sequence of three or extra.

For instance, the Oxford comma falls after “hat” on this sentence:

“She wore a jacket, hat, and mittens.”

Whereas some writing fashion guides don’t use this comma, supporters say it’s essential to keep away from potential ambiguity. And if there’s one factor writers can agree on, it’s the significance of readability. In some instances, an additional comma issues.

Does AP Fashion Use the Oxford Comma?

The quick reply: No.

Many writers, together with journalists, reside by the Related Press stylebook. AP fashion doesn’t use Oxford commas.

Nonetheless, Chicago fashion does require Oxford commas. That’s the Chicago Handbook of Fashion, which is often utilized by e book publishers, lecturers, and commerce publications.

So the choice about whether or not to make use of the serial comma depends on what kind of writing you’re doing, and which fashion information applies to that challenge.

In the event you’re writing for a information web site, you in all probability need to comply with AP fashion and skip the additional punctuation. In the event you’re writing a novel you propose to undergo publishers, you in all probability need to comply with Chicago fashion, which does use the Oxford comma.

An Instance to Comply with

Let’s evaluation how the Oxford comma works.

Right here’s an instance of a sentence with the Oxford comma:

“I like my dad and mom, Gandhi, and Mom Teresa.”

It’s clear on this instance that I like my dad and mom, in addition to Gandhi, and Mom Teresa.

However take away that serial comma, and the sentence reads, “I like my dad and mom, Gandhi and Mom Teresa.”

One might argue that, written this fashion, the sentence implies that Gandhi and Mom Teresa are my dad and mom. Whereas the typical particular person would know this isn’t prone to be the case, it illustrates how simply a lacking comma can change the which means of a sentence.

Dictionary.com presents extra humorous examples

It was exactly this sort of ambiguity that led to the Maine case with the dairy farmers.

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The Oxford Comma Debate, And A $10 Million Comma

On this class motion lawsuit, drivers for Oakhurst Dairy sued the corporate over its failure to grant them extra time pay.

Employees in Maine are entitled to 1.5 instances their regular pay for hours labored over 40 per week, in keeping with state regulation. Nonetheless, there are exemptions to this rule. Particularly, the regulation states, firms don’t should pay extra time for the next actions:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, advertising and marketing, storing, packing for cargo or distribution of:

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

Observe the top of the opening line, the place there isn’t any comma earlier than the “or.”

Oakhurst Dairy argued its drivers didn’t qualify for extra time as a result of they interact in distribution, and the spirit of the regulation meant to listing “packing for cargo” and “distribution” as two separate exempt actions.

Nonetheless, the drivers argued the letter of the regulation stated no such factor. With out that telltale Oxford comma, the regulation may very well be learn to exclude solely packing—whether or not it was packing for cargo or packing for distribution. Distribution by itself, on this case, would not be exempt.

With out that comma, because the choose maintained, this distinction was not clear-cut:

If that exemption used a serial comma to mark off the final of the actions that it lists, then the exemption would clearly embody an exercise that the drivers carry out. And, in that occasion, the drivers would plainly fall throughout the exemption and thus exterior the extra time regulation’s safety. However, because it occurs, there isn’t any serial comma to be discovered within the exemption’s listing of actions, thus resulting in this dispute over whether or not the drivers fall throughout the exemption from the extra time regulation or not.

Barron, Circuit Decide

In consequence, the court docket present in favor of the drivers, costing the dairy an estimated $10 million.

A Win for the Oxford Comma: This Lawsuit Shows Why It's So Important.

Comma Guidelines: To Comma, or To not Comma?

As a diehard Oxford comma loyalist, this ruling made my day.

Whereas lots of the websites I write for as a freelance blogger comply with AP fashion, which is sans-serial comma, I nonetheless sneak one in when it appears wanted to keep away from confusion. This case backs up that behavior as extra than simply an old-school tic I haven’t but let go.

Whereas the controversy should rage on over whether or not Oxford commas are obligatory on a regular basis, this ruling upholds the apply of utilizing them once they’re important to push back ambiguity.

So, who care concerning the Oxford comma? The reply, in keeping with the courts, is formally: anybody who’s excited about readability.

Take that, AP fashion!

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That is an up to date model of a narrative that was beforehand printed. We replace our posts as usually as attainable to make sure they’re helpful for our readers.

Picture by way of Lamai Prasitsuwan/ Shutterstock

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