Comma drama

comma dramaA Portland, Maine dairy company will have to shell out $10 million because of an overtime pay statute and a comma, a court has ruled.

The ruling, according to a March report by The New York Times, is resulting from ambiguity caused by the Oxford comma–or in this case, a lack thereof.

And all the Oxford comma zealots chimed into the discussion with a collective “I told you so.”

The Oxford comma, or serial comma, is the final comma in a list of at least three items–“tea, lattes, and macchiatos,” for instance.

Journalists frequently leave it out of a sentence where doing so won’t obscure the sentence’s meaning. If I write “tea, lattes and macchiatos,” the meaning doesn’t change. Conversely, the mark should be included in muddy, complicated lists for the sake of clarity.

And isn’t clarity one of the chief aims of all good writing?

An unnecessary comma can sometimes impede reading, acting as a speed bump to the process. Nix it if it makes the writing clunky.

But if the case of the dairy company teaches us one thing it’s this–sometimes there are 10 million reasons to include the Oxford comma.




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