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The Great Oxford Comma Debate

Because of the lack of an Oxford comma, milk-truck drivers in Maine recently won a $10 million lawsuit against their employer, Oakhurst Dairy (O’Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy).

An Oxford comma (aka a serial comma), is the last comma separating a list of 3 or more items. Had a comma been placed after shipment in the following paragraph, Oakhurst Dairy wouldn’t have to pay $10 million for overtime.

Maine state law says workers are not entitled to overtime pay for: “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.”

The milk delivery drivers argued that their duties don’t include “PACKING for shipment or distribution.” They said, “We don’t pack milk. We just distribute it. Thus, these exemptions for overtime activities don’t apply to us.”

Judge David J. Barron agreed.

An Oxford comma would make the law clear: “…storing, packing for shipment, OR distribution…”  [Note: to match the other -ing words in the list, they should change that word to distributing.] Treated as an activity separate from packing, distributing perishable milk would exempt those drivers from overtime pay.

Lighting the Journey Ahead

My feet are set in concrete in the Oxford comma camp. Clarity is worth one punctuation mark.

Oxford opponents say, “Rewrite a sentence to avoid using it.” So, swallow a camel but strain a gnat?

Oakhurst Dairy didn’t write the law that penalized it. Yet, they’re facing the refrigerator-cold reality of Proverbs 23:5: Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.

As Good Friday and Easter approach, thank God that our salvation in Christ doesn’t hinge on a comma.

What would you add to this conversation?

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