The Oxford Comma Rides Again

images.jpgA Maine court ruling in a case about overtime pay and dairy delivery didn’t come down to trucks, milk, or money. Instead, it hinged on one missing comma.

The serial comma, also known as the Oxford comma for its endorsement by the Oxford University Press style rulebook, is a comma used just before the coordinating conjunction (“and,” or “or,” for example) when three or more terms are listed. You’ll see it in the first sentence of this story—it’s the comma after “milk”—but you won’t find it in the Maine overtime rule at issue in the Oakhurst Dairy case. According to state law, the following types of activities are among those that don’t qualify for overtime pay:

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.

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The Oxford Comma

The Oxford comma, I believe, is generally referred to as the serial comma in the States.

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When I took English back before the Beatles, I learned to separate all the items of a series with commas. Thus it was mandatory to write:  “Red, White, and Blue.” As the years passed there was a tacit movement to eliminated unnecessary punctuation and it seemed reasonable. Go back and read some of those 19th century authors with their commas and colons and semi-colons. Now notice that when I write a series using the conjunction “and” I do not require  any serial commas. Going back to the original phrase, the use of the final serial comma is redundant. Thus it seems logical to write: “Red, White and Blue.”

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