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Using the Oxford comma could save you millions.

 
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justintyme



Joined: 08 Jul 2012
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Location: Northfield, MN


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PostPosted: 03/18/17 12:44 am    ::: Using the Oxford comma could save you millions. Reply Reply with quote

Lack of Oxford Comma Could Cost Maine Company Millions in Overtime Dispute


Quote:
A quick punctuation lesson before we proceed: In a list of three or more items — like “beans, potatoes and rice” — some people would put a comma after potatoes, and some would leave it out. A lot of people feel very, very strongly about it...

The debate over commas is often a pretty inconsequential one, but it was anything but for the truck drivers. Note the lack of Oxford comma — also known as the serial comma — in the following state law, which says overtime rules do not apply to:

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.

Does the law intend to exempt the distribution of the three categories that follow, or does it mean to exempt packing for the shipping or distribution of them?

Delivery drivers distribute perishable foods, but they don’t pack the boxes themselves. Whether the drivers were subject to a law that had denied them thousands of dollars a year depended entirely on how the sentence was read.

If there were a comma after “shipment,” it might have been clear that the law exempted the distribution of perishable foods. But the appeals court on Monday sided with the drivers, saying the absence of a comma produced enough uncertainty to rule in their favor. It reversed a lower court decision.


The Oxford comma is pretty much par for the course in academia, as both the MLA and Chicago Manual of Style require it. This is a perfect example of why. As a proponent, this ruling makes me smile.



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GlennMacGrady



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PostPosted: 03/18/17 5:58 am    ::: Reply Reply with quote

Is this really an example of the Oxford comma?

It seems to me that the drafter of the law properly omitted a comma after "shipment" and that the court properly construed the law as therefore not applying to mere "distribution" sans "packing".

Wouldn't a wooden Oxford comma-unist have robotically put a comma after "shipment", thereby destroying the obviously intent of the law?

I think commas should be put before the last item of a series only when to do so clarifies meaning or otherwise enhances readability and understanding, not as an arbitrary rule that commas must always appear after X number of entries in a series.
sambista



Joined: 25 Sep 2004
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PostPosted: 03/18/17 5:59 am    ::: Reply Reply with quote

though cmos and other style guides adhere to the oxford comma, the ap stylebook, nyt stylebook and news outlets, for the most, don't. not anymore, anyway.

i'm a nerd about punctuation. knowing when and how to use punctuation is a lost skill, along with writing in general. almost no one knows how to use punctuation anymore - why and when and how to use a comma; why, when and how to use a period; why, when and how to use a semicolon; etc.

notice i didn't use the oxford comma in the above sentence? many people wouldn't think to use a semicolon to separate the series at the end, but that's conventional style. at the same time, adding oxford commas in that sentence - commas on top of commas - would've been excessive and unnecessary, imo.

punctuation is, among other things, "designed to help readers understand a story without stumbling," one newspaper stylebook says. the key is that strictly using the oxford comma or strictly not, and without consideration of whether it helps or hurts in a particular circumstance, defeats the goal of clear and clean writing.

print and online media don't use the oxford comma because it's unnecessary in most situations that can be clearly understood without it. in the case of the state law, the meaning of the sentence could be read more than one way. because it wasn't clear, it clearly needed a comma, regardless of any declared style.

style guides are, after all, just guides. common sense should be applied.

here's a teaser i've given copy editors, to illustrate how important punctuation, and using the correct punctuation, is. take a look at this paragraph.

The people who are confirmed for the party are Greg, Taylor, his wife, Lisa, a cousin, two people from work, Tom and Jeff, two friends from next door, Betty, my niece, and Carol.

how many people are confirmed for the party?



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Ex-Ref



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PostPosted: 03/18/17 9:30 am    ::: Reply Reply with quote

sambista wrote:


The people who are confirmed for the party are Greg, Taylor, his wife, Lisa, a cousin, two people from work, Tom and Jeff, two friends from next door, Betty, my niece, and Carol.

how many people are confirmed for the party?


As few as seven or as many as 14?



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justintyme



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PostPosted: 03/18/17 12:14 pm    ::: Reply Reply with quote

sambista wrote:

The people who are confirmed for the party are Greg, Taylor, his wife, Lisa, a cousin, two people from work, Tom and Jeff, two friends from next door, Betty, my niece, and Carol.

how many people are confirmed for the party?


14. If it is less the writer failed to use the correct punctuation.

When you have a list that contains commas, a semi-colon should be used to seperate the items in that list. So if these are not all seperate entities the list should look like this:

The people who are confirmed for the party are Greg; Taylor, his wife; Lisa, a cousin; two people from work; Tom and Jeff, two friends from next door; Betty, my niece; and Carol.

Even better would be to put this in a list format, as it would facilitate easier reading.



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Richard 77



Joined: 19 Nov 2004
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PostPosted: 03/18/17 1:04 pm    ::: Reply Reply with quote

My last editor was in the pro-Oxford comma camp. Since writing Mother's Night, I have been using the Oxford comma ever since.



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pilight



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PostPosted: 03/18/17 5:56 pm    ::: Reply Reply with quote

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/P_i1xk07o4g" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>



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Howee



Joined: 27 Nov 2009
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PostPosted: 03/18/17 9:25 pm    ::: Reply Reply with quote

justintyme wrote:
The people who are confirmed for the party are Greg; Taylor, his wife; Lisa, a cousin; two people from work; Tom and Jeff, two friends from next door; Betty, my niece; and Carol.

Even better would be to put this in a list format, as it would facilitate easier reading.


That would be true....I was also going to say, familiarity with one's audience is relevant.

How do we know Greg is married to Taylor, instead of Taylor bringing HIS (un-named) wife? Or is LISA his wife? One *might* assume Tom and Jeff are 2 friends from next door, or....are there 2 (un-named) friends from next door coming, as well as Tom and Jeff? Shocked

I must say, if I were hosting and received this note, I'd be very strongly inclined to get clarification from the writer as to precisely who's coming. Cool



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sambista



Joined: 25 Sep 2004
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Location: cidade maravilhosa


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PostPosted: 03/18/17 11:39 pm    ::: Reply Reply with quote

Howee wrote:
I must say, if I were hosting and received this note, I'd be very strongly inclined to get clarification from the writer as to precisely who's coming. Cool


exactly. and that's the answer: only the writer knows. it's that confusing. i figured no fewer than nine and as many as 14.

commas should be applied as common sense and clarity dictate. i'd never endorse the oxford comma as a base rule because some serial commas really aren't needed for comprehension.

but what really gets my goat is emails with a salutation written like this:

Hi Sambista,

film at 11.



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GlennMacGrady



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PostPosted: 03/18/17 11:51 pm    ::: Reply Reply with quote

Sambista's example cannot be punctuated using just commas, Oxford or nay. It must be punctuated with semicolons to separate each guest or group of guests to the party, using commas only to set off appositives, as JIT has attempted to do. Personally, I also favor a colon after the introductory word to a semicolon-ed list -- in sambista's case, after the word "are". Most legal drafters use this punctuation convention.
sambista



Joined: 25 Sep 2004
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Location: cidade maravilhosa


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PostPosted: 03/19/17 8:19 am    ::: Reply Reply with quote

GlennMacGrady wrote:
Sambista's example cannot be punctuated using just commas, Oxford or nay. It must be punctuated with semicolons to separate each guest or group of guests to the party, using commas only to set off appositives, as JIT has attempted to do. Personally, I also favor a colon after the introductory word to a semicolon-ed list -- in sambista's case, after the word "are". Most legal drafters use this punctuation convention.


my only disagreement here is that "are" isn't necessary. the words preceding a colon can be, and often are, understood as essentially a label.

The people confirmed for the party: Greg ...

i also edited myself and deleted "who are."



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