It needed a comma. Period!

Sep 15, 2017 | 2 comments

I just love it that the serial comma has finally received the recognition it deserves.  At a cost of $10,000,000 mind you!  After fifty or sixty years of copy readers and editors removing those last-in-a-line commas of mine, all I can say is “nyaa nyaa, nyaa, nyaa, nyaa nyaa!”

In case you haven’t kept up – since time immemorial (at least by my standards) the Oxford Dictionary has said “yes” to the final comma in a series.  So… “The colors of the flag are red, white, and blue.”  Wrong says the Associated Press.  “The colors of the flag are red, white and blue.”  Most editors of U.S. publications follow the A.P. rule – no comma at the end of a series.  Even in the State of Maine, drafters of legal statutes are specifically instructed not to use the serial comma!

Some editors say “no” to the final comma unless it is needed for clarity.  The classic example goes something like “This book is dedicated to my parents, Dorothy Parker and God” which gives the author an unusual set of parents, indeed.  Add a comma after Parker for clarity.

Which brings us to The case of the Maine milk-truck drivers who, for want of a comma, won an appeal against their employer, Oakhurst Dairy, regarding overtime pay (O’Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy) has warmed the hearts of punctuation enthusiasts everywhere, from the great dairy state of Wisconsin to the cheese haven of Holland, according to the March 17, 2017 issue of The New Yorker magazine.

The magazine goes on to say: According to Maine state law, workers are not entitled to overtime pay for the following activities: “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 issue is that, without a comma after “shipment,” the “packing for shipment or distribution” is a single activity. Truck drivers do not pack food, either for shipment or for distribution; they drive trucks and deliver it. Therefore, these exemptions do not apply to drivers, and Oakhurst Dairy owes them some ten million dollars.

There were some other subtleties that the drivers had going for them such as the use of gerunds in conjunction with nouns causing difficulties with the rule of ‘parallel usage’.   Got that?  Bottom line: the truck drivers won!  And editors everywhere are on notice that the final comma in a series is not only proper… it may be worth ten million bucks!


  1. Cindi Bartels

    YEA For the Oxford COMMA! I am a fan and have used it since grade school. Thank a teacher.

    • sydney

      On behalf of all my teacher colleagues — you’re welcome!


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