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=MECH= A missing Oxford comma costs a dairy company $5 million

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2/22/2018 12:26:06   
  Master Samak
Fallen Leprechaun

=MECH= Grammar/Punctuation

The New York Times article: Oxford Comma Dispute Is Settled as Maine Drivers Get $5 Million
Snopes.com article: Drivers, and Oxford Comma, Come Up Big in Lawsuit Settlement

First things first—What is an Oxford comma? It is the comma used before the final item of a list (used before the final "and" describing three or more items).
Take the following sentence:

"I traveled with my friends, a horse, and a dog."
The comma after "a horse" is the Oxford comma. It helps to make clear that I am traveling with three distinct entities. 1) My friends. 2) A horse. 3) A dog.

The Oxford comma is a matter of style for many and a matter of steadfastness for others. It depends on your wording. In the case of my sentence here, look what happens if I withhold the Oxford comma:

"I traveled with my friends, a horse and a dog."
Oh no! Wait, what does this mean now? Am I still traveling with three distinct entities or am I now traveling with just my friends, who happen to be a horse and a dog? I mean, it's not impossible for me to be traveling with just a horse and a dog, and it's also not impossible for them to be my friends! But I meant something else! Ah! Confusion!

The above example barely scratches the surface of style vs. necessity, but at least in the legal world the the Oxford comma (or lack of it) has proved financially to be very much a necessity. Cue the two links above!

Published earlier this month is a report that due to a section in the U.S. state of Maine law books being unclear in meaning, because there wasn't an Oxford comma to clearly detail a list, a dairy company has settled a lawsuit by paying five million dollars to overtime employees. Five million dollars! That's crazy! And all because of grammar!

You can find the problem section quoted in the Times article. It is more complex than the sentence I gave, written in "legalese," but not complex enough to escape the argument for an Oxford comma.

What about you? Do you use the Oxford (or serial, Harvard, series) comma? Why or why not?

< Message edited by Master Samak -- 2/22/2018 12:29:10 >
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