Take That, AP Style! Court of Law Rules The Oxford Comma Necessary

Take That, AP Style! Court of Law Rules The Oxford Comma Necessary

“Who gives a $#%& about an Oxford comma?”

So goes one of my favorite lyrics by , and the answer to date has largely been: grammar nerds, Strunk & White and those who follow the infamous .

Now, we can add dairy driver to the list.

That’s because an appellate court recently ruled in favor of Maine dairy drivers in a labor dispute that hinged on the oft-debated piece of punctuation.

For anyone who’s ever wondered what all the fuss is about over Oxford commas, the circuit judge’s says it all: “For want of a comma, we have this case.”

Why an extra comma matters

For those in need of a grammar refresh, the Oxford (or serial) comma is a comma placed between the last two items in a series of three or more. For instance, “I like cake, pizza, and ice cream.”

Proponents of the Oxford comma argue it’s necessary to avoid potential ambiguity.

In the example sentence, it’s clear I like three types of food in and of themselves. Remove it and the sentence reads, “I like cake, pizza and ice cream” — leading to the potential to read the last two items as one combination item. I no longer like pizza and ice cream on their own, one could argue; I like pizza and ice cream only when they’re together. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

It was precisely this type of ambiguity that led to the Maine case.

The $10 million comma

In this class action lawsuit, drivers for Oakhurst Dairy sued the company over its failure to grant them overtime pay. According to Maine law, workers are entitled to 1.5 times their normal pay for any hours worked over 40 per week. However, there are exemptions to this rule. Specifically, companies don’t need to pay overtime 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 product; and
  3. Perishable foods

Note the end of the opening line, where there is no comma before the “or.”

Oakhurst Dairy argued its drivers did not qualify for overtime because they engage in distribution, and the spirit of the law intended to list “packing for shipment” and “distribution” as two separate exempt activities.

However, the drivers argued the letter of the law said no such thing. Without that telltale Oxford comma, the law could be read to exclude only packing — whether it was packing for shipment or packing for distribution. Distribution by itself, in this case, would not be exempt.

Without that comma, as the judge , this distinction was not clearcut:

Specifically, if that exemption used a serial comma to mark off the last of the activities that it lists, then the exemption would clearly encompass an activity that the drivers perform. And, in that event, the drivers would plainly fall within the exemption and thus outside the overtime law’s protection. But, as it happens, there is no serial comma to be found in the exemption’s list of activities, thus leading to this dispute over whether the drivers fall within the exemption from the overtime law or not.

As a result, the court found in favor of the drivers, costing the dairy an .

oxford comma debate

To comma, or not to comma?

As a diehard Oxford comma loyalist, this ruling made my day. While many of the sites I write for as a freelance blogger follow AP style (including this one), which is sans-serial comma, I still sneak one in when it seems needed to avoid potential confusion. This case backs up that habit as more than just an old-school tic I haven’t yet let go.

While the debate may still rage on over whether Oxford commas are necessary all the time, this ruling upholds the practice of using them when they’re essential to ward off ambiguity.

So, who gives a $#%& about an Oxford comma? The answer, according to the courts, is officially: anyone who’s interested in clarity.

(Take that, AP style!)

What do you think? Are you pro-Oxford comma as a rule, or only in specific circumstances?

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor; follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.

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405 comments

  • Marge says:

    All of the contributers to this thread should watch Victor Borge’s hilarious bit on “PUNCTUATION”. You may be able to find it on YouTube or ITunes.

  • Nick Jones says:

    You’re writing about punctuation and you use a dangling paritciple? “As a diehard Oxford comma loyalist, this ruling made my day.” I suppose the ruling could be thought of as an Oxford comma loyalist, but probably not a diehard one. Your sentence gave me the same kind of whiplash I get from so much news reporting these days.

  • Kathy Walston says:

    When I was in High School, back in the 1970’s, my English teacher was a passionate Anglophile. The Oxford comma was mandatory in any class she taught. I still use it faithfully, when appropriate. I still wouldn’t dare do otherwise.

  • Elizabeth S. says:

    I use it only when necessary. A simple list doesn’t need it: “I like pears, oranges and apples.”
    If I have a sentence that I know could be misunderstood, I’ll use it: ” For lunch, I like to have crackers, apples, peanut butter, and jelly.” (PB&J not together.)

    • Kevin H says:

      “For lunch, I like to have crackers, apples, peanut butter, and jelly.”

      This would be perfectly fine and not confusing without the Oxford comma. You’d need another coordinating conjunction — “crackers, apples and peanut butter and jelly” for PB&J to be grouped.

      It’s the same reason why the judge was wrong in this ruling. There was no additional coordinating conjunction.

  • Jen says:

    Came across this for fluky reasons and so glad I did! I never heard of the term “oxford comma” before today…but I’ve been a committed user of it essentially all my writing life. Somewhere along the way I somehow came to the understanding that this was US (oxford comma) vs. British usage (no oxford comma). Never knew it was more complicated than that. I’m a firm believer in the use of that final comma both because of the potential for exactly the type of ambiguity noted above, and because I associate the comma with a breath/beat/pause in the series of items, a marker of the separation between them. Which is quite touch-feely rather than strictly rule-based. So it was really eye-opening to read about the style guide debates over this! Thanks for the article.

  • Jack Courtney says:

    Red, white and blue.

    Legalese is hardly the bastion of great writing and should not be used as a benchmark in this context. It is also responsible for influencing millions of misguided writers (including those w/ post-graduate degrees) who somehow developed the idea that they should write like verbose attorneys.

    I only use Oxford Commas to prevent ambiguity — otherwise, they’re just clutter … like the semicolons in the article’s bulleted list.

    I stand behind a considerable body of work: 20 yrs of professional writing as a PR consultant and now the editor of three blogs in financial services.

    Notwithstanding the expected rebuttals from those in opposition; whereas, having more important things to do; whereas, “frankly, I don’t give a damn.”

  • Funny Man says:

    I thought Kelly was “growing her own freelance writing, editing, and blogging empire day by day.”

  • SuzannaEtc says:

    Perfect timing! This landed in my in-box on August 21sr. This Saturday, my son, along with millions of other American kids, will us take the SAT. The College Board insists on the serial comma.
    I’ve emailed him this article: Look — real life consequences for our grammar choices!
    (Or should that be “for our grammatical choices” ???

  • Greg says:

    We follow AP style but regardless, I would only use the Oxford comma in instances where clarity is needed. Why use it otherwise? It just clutters up a sentence!

  • John says:

    The second statement of this essay lacks an Oxford comma.

    “So goes one of my favorite lyrics by Vampire Weekend, and the answer to date has largely been: grammar nerds, Strunk & White and those who follow the infamous Chicago vs. AP style debate.”

    Shouldn’t this read as “grammar nerds, Strunk & White, and those who follow…”?

  • Bryan says:

    In argument for the Oxford comma, I’ve always enjoyed comparing sentences like, “We invited two strippers, Oprah Winfrey and Christopher Walken,” versus, “We invited two strippers, Oprah Winfrey, and Christopher Walken.”

    In my blogs and writing, I always include the Oxford comma.

    • Kevin H says:

      “We invited the stripper, Oprah Winfrey, and Christopher Walken.”

      In the singular, your Oxford comma just made Oprah a stripper when “We invited the stripper, Oprah Winfrey and Christopher Walken” is in fact more clear.

      Oxford commas are not the catch-all solution to clear writing, and poor, incomplete logic like this is the reason why Oxford comma zealotry is a problem. People don’t even fully think out their own examples or other grammar rules as they insist on the serial comma.

  • Kevin says:

    Not using the serial comma is a sign of both sloppy writing and the failure to have properly retained the basic rules of grammar and punctuation that we all supposedly learned as part of our compulsory education.

  • Andy says:

    While the Oxford Comma is not a perfect solution to all potentially ambiguous grammatical constructions, the simple truth is that there is no good reason NOT to use the Oxford Comma. Many arguments against the Oxford Comma assert that it takes up too much space and complicates typesetting; such concerns are moot in the age of digital word processing. It is ALWAYS better to be safe than to be sorry.

    • Kevin H says:

      There are plenty of good reasons not to use the Oxford comma.

      The popular example is “We invited the strippers, JFK, and Stalin.” Yet no one even looks at the budget example of a single stripper, “We invited the stripper, JFK, and Stalin,” in which that Oxford comma now makes JFK a stripper.

      Another: “We invited my wife, Lisa, and my friend Brandon.” In this case you don’t have the benefit of context or existing knowledge to know what I mean. I can only have one wife, so she’d need a comma as a nonessential positive if my wife and Lisa are one in the same. I can have multiple friends so I don’t need a comma when indicating Brandon as the essential appositive for which friend. The Oxford comma rule isn’t the only rule that applies here. I actually mean two people, but the Oxford comma standard adds confusion when there would be none if its omission was standard. Standardized omission would make it always clear this is two people, and that “My wife, Lisa and my friend Brandon” is always three.

      Finally, in the example used by the author of this blog as “the reason” a comma is needed to prevent the final two items of a list from being grouped, she omits the coordinating conjunction that would make her argument true: “I like cake, and pizza and ice cream.” The language of the law makes the same omission. The judge was wrong.

  • Richard Swindells says:

    Wouldn’t a list of bullet points have cleared up any misunderstanding in this instance? Was the Oxford comma really the only solution?

  • Ramanuj Basu says:

    This was a delightful vindication of what my grammar gut has always told me. (Ironic, though, that there’s no comma after “Strunk and White” near the beginning of the piece.)

  • Eric says:

    In both of the examples given (the one in the lawsuit and the earlier “I like cake, pizza and ice cream”), the case for the Oxford comma requires that we presume the author is committing a grammatical error. In the pizza and ice cream example, to construe the Oxford-comma-less sentence as asserting a taste for pizza and ice cream combined you have to assume that the author has committed a comma splice. In the example in the lawsuit, you have to assume that the authors of the legislation left out the word “and” between “storing” and “packing.” There may be cases in which the OC is necessary to avoid confusion, but these don’t strike me as illustrations of that.

  • Kevin H says:

    “I like cake, pizza and ice cream” — no one would ever believe you only like pizza and ice cream together. Aside from it being a silly argument on its face, you’re also missing the coordinating conjunction that would make your argument true: “I like cake, and pizza and ice cream.” Another coordinating conjunction is required for grouping to occur.

    And in, it was precisely this lack of ambiguity that made the judge wrong in the Maine case.

    It was universally misreported that an Oxford comma was the problem. It was not. There’s only a single coordinating conjunction, meaning the “or” indicates you’re coming up to the end of the list. If “packing (for shipment or distribution)” was meant to be read as a single phrase, the sentence would have required another coordinating conjunction before packing: “storing *or* packing for shipment or distribution.” But it doesn’t say that. Add that it adheres to Maine’s style guidelines to not use a serial comma. For some reason, there seems to be no recognition that the phrasing should be interpreted exactly as it’s printed — with one coordinator and in adherence to style.

    In order for the Oxford comma folks to be “confused” by the wording, they have to pretend that a second coordinating conjunction exists where it does not — the phrasing does not say “(storing) or (packing for shipment or distribution) of,” it says “(storing), (packing for shipment) or (distribution) of.” One conjunction. An Oxford comma would not change the meaning.

    This was a case of judicial activism.

    Not convinced?

    “I’d like to thank my wife, Lisa, and my brother.” Am I talking about two people or three?

    Comma rules require that nonessential appositives get commas (I only have one wife, Lisa, so she doesn’t need renaming), while essential appositives do not get commas (like distinguishing between my brother Jack instead of my brother John). You’re also not allowed to rephrase, as I’m thanking those people in a ranked order.

    Because of the Oxford comma, this sentence has two meanings that cannot be distinguished without further context. Standardized elimination of the Oxford comma would make it clear that I’m talking about two people above and three people here: “I’d like to thank my wife, Lisa and my brother.”

    Or, more famously, the “We invited the strippers, JFK and Stalin” example of why an Oxford comma is necessary. Oh yeah? What if there’s only one stripper? “We invited the stripper, JFK, and Stalin” — guess what, Oxford lovers, JFK is now a stripper, and it’s more clear to write: “We invited the stripper, JFK and Stalin.”

    The aggressive position that Oxford commas always add clarity is, in fact, clearly untrue. In my opinion, the Oxford comma is a crutch for lazy writing and poor construction, most exemplified by the fact that no one can hear your Oxford comma when you speak. As an editor for the past 20 years, I’ve found that forcing writers to omit the serial comma as a clarity crutch actually forces them to think and write more clearly — and communicate more effectively — overall. This is exemplified in thousands upon thousands of column inches per day of AP-style newspaper writing, likely the most-consumed professional writing on the planet on a daily basis.

    • Crispin Miller says:

      Kevin H,
      Some of what you say is legit and some is bogus:

      Your argument makes some sense up to your accusation of judicial activism. And that too MIGHT be true — or might not, since, conjunction or no, I still agree with the judge’s assessment that the omission of the comma did leave the list less clear than it would have been with it.

      Going on,

      ” ‘I’d like to thank my wife, Lisa, and my brother.’ Am I talking about two people or three?

      “Comma rules require that nonessential appositives get commas (I only have one wife, Lisa, so she doesn’t need renaming), while essential appositives do not get commas (like distinguishing between my brother Jack instead of my brother John). You’re also not allowed to rephrase, as I’m thanking those people in a ranked order.”

      — I think you’re constructing a setup here by (1) declaring the comma rule for restrictive vs. nonrestrictive appositives to be completely rigid — claiming that it would suggest bigamy to take the commas away from Lisa is as silly as some of the purported ambiguities you yourself deride — and (2) outlawing the rephrasing option: two items have to be named in SOME order, so it’s bogus to imply that we will infer that the order alone conveys rank — and therefore bogus to declare that you have to be naming people in that order.

      “Because of the Oxford comma, this sentence has two meanings that cannot be distinguished without further context. Standardized elimination of the Oxford comma would make it clear that I’m talking about two people above and three people here: ‘I’d like to thank my wife, Lisa and my brother.’ ”

      — Disingenuous. STANDARDIZED elimination of it is not a realistic option, as you demonstrate below although you ignore it,

      “Or, more famously, the ‘We invited the strippers, JFK and Stalin’ example of why an Oxford comma is necessary. Oh yeah? What if there’s only one stripper? ‘We invited the stripper, JFK, and Stalin’ — guess what, Oxford lovers, JFK is now a stripper, and it’s more clear to write: ‘We invited the stripper, JFK and Stalin.’ ”

      — True for the one-stripper case, but clearly not for the two-stripper case, for which you’re still on the hook.

      “The aggressive position that Oxford commas always add clarity is, in fact, clearly untrue.”

      — Granted, but that doesn’t support your equally aggressive blanket condemnation of them.

      “In my opinion, the Oxford comma is a crutch for lazy writing and poor construction, most exemplified by the fact that no one can hear your Oxford comma when you speak.”

      — Nonsense. Maybe YOU neglect to pause where that comma occurs. I do pause there, as does any careful speaker I’ve listened to.

      “As an editor for the past 20 years, I’ve found that forcing writers to omit the serial comma as a clarity crutch actually forces them to think and write more clearly — and communicate more effectively — overall. This is exemplified in thousands upon thousands of column inches per day of AP-style newspaper writing, likely the most-consumed professional writing on the planet on a daily basis.”

      — Some of which is less than astutely written –frequently confusing “may” with “might,” for example. In some constructions the Oxford comma may be a crutch, but it’s excessive to say because you don’t like it that it’s necessarily a crutch. Sometimes it’s the natural and obvious way to supply clarity, and I don’t agree that we should necessarily jump through hoops to rephrase so as always to do without it.

      As for your years in the trade and the number of inches of AP copy getting printed, if your arguments were sound those credentials would add to them. When they’re not, pulling rank doesn’t help.

      • Kevin H says:

        Tell your wife that rank doesn’t matter if she did most of the work and you thank your friend first. You might end up sleeping on the couch. Itemized lists are frequently ranked, and I imposed that rule in my example because the possibility absolutely exists.

        You’re quite correct that standardized elimination is not a realistic option, and as stated elsewhere I don’t really care what you use; I clearly believe the standardized preference should be to omit rather than include the Oxford comma, as I believe its inclusion is only necessary for clarity but otherwise shouldn’t be standard. I only make the perhaps-immature standardized-elimination argument in (trolling?) response to folks who claim that there’s no reason to not use one, that it ALWAYS adds clarity, etc., as they offer example after poor example of thoughtless reasons why they’re always correct. See the “strippers, JFK and Stalin” image and phrase that’s endlessly posted on boards such as this one, without any recognition that making strippers singular refutes their entire argument on clarity. Or see the writer of this blog’s terrible example, that she needs an Oxford comma because people might think she only likes pizza with her ice cream — never mind that to believe such a thing would require another coordinating conjunction that doesn’t exist.

        This thoughtlessness is what I repeatedly encounter, as most people I engage who make these arguments stand hard and fast on the serial-comma rules they learned in grade school, they literally cannot fathom instances in which the Oxford comma can make things less clear, and they further do not understand or are happily willing to throw out any and all comma rules relating to appositives and nonessential clauses. (Note my use of a serial comma for clarity!) This thoughtless in writing is where the crutch of laziness occurs.

        I am absolutely happy to acknowledge that, because the serial comma was standard and AP removes it, that active change itself may be what forces writers to be more careful — and that therefore if omission was standard and the serial comma was AP style, that same change might also trigger writers to be more thoughtful. But ultimately it’s not the Oxford comma I disagree with, it’s the zealotry that it’s “correct” and “always” the better choice. That’s simply not true, and I don’t believe it was true in this ruling, either. Please note that while I’m against the judge’s reason, I’m ultimately in favor of the ruling itself — it was written as it was meant, in my opinion, but it was a bad law.

  • Bob says:

    As others have pointed out, the judge was correct because of the rule of parallel construction. If distribution was a separate item in the list, the word “distributing” should have been used. If distribution is one of the items in the list, why doesn’t the list use “preservation” instead of “preserving” or “storage” instead of “storing”? It’s “distribution” because it ties to “shipment” and is part of the noun phrase “packing for shipment and distribution”. The grammatical error is the omission of a conjunction before “packing”.

    “I’d like to thank my wife, Lisa, and my brother.” This should mean 3 people. Otherwise, it should be written, “I’d like to thank my wife Lisa and my brother.” No need for commas to separate “Lisa”, no matter what the prescriptive rules say. The sentence looks better and reads better without the commas. The one wife argument is bogus. The noun phrase “my wife Lisa” is a unit, and including the name personalizes the writing.

    As others have explained, there is always a way to avoid confusion. The overtime pay exclusions could have been listed as bullets or numerically as the product list was. The sentence could have been written, “I’d like to thank my wife Sue, my friend Lisa, and my brother Sam.

    • Kevin H says:

      And those people are still incorrect.

      The judge opines that the author omitted a conjunction in the list as a matter of legal style. That’s instantly, demonstrably false if the judge looked at the context of even the rest of the same statute:
      (1) Agricultural produce;
      (2) Meat and fish products; and
      (3) Perishable foods.

      So what’s more likely: That the writer made an accidental paralleling error while otherwise saying exactly what they wrote and exactly what they meant in fully conforming with Maine’s style guidelines? Or that the author omitted an entire word — the earlier coordinator they use elsewhere — and should have broken with style to insert another comma for unnecessary “clarity”?

      The argument here is not that Oxford commas should be eliminated. I don’t really care what you use. The argument is that there’s a zealotry that the Oxford comma is necessary to avoid confusion, when that’s clearly not the case — and that in this case the judge ignored the obvious: that the writer wrote exactly what was meant.

      What’s also not confusing: “I’d like to thank my wife Sue, my friend Lisa and my brother Sam” — no Oxford comma. Though it’s confusing that you’re suggesting you have more than one wife, as you throw out other rules just to double down on wanting unnecessary Oxford commas.

      “We invited the stripper, JFK, and Stalin” — even the old Oxford-purist go-to is problematic when you make strippers singular.

      • Crispin Miller says:

        Unlikely that the drafter omitted (gasp) an entire word (“and”)? Hell, no, happens in text revision all the time; I’d have thought you’d know that. I think you err to scoff at Sam’s point that EVERY item in the main list is a gerund while “distribution” isn’t. Socioeconomically it’s also noteworthy that all but one of those gerunds are back-room jobs typically held by workers who don’t have lobbyists in the State House. How “marketing” is meant is an interesting question, but I bet it’s more likely to mean someone hired to walk around in a sandwich board than it is to mean Hill Holiiday Cosmopoulos.

        • Kevin H says:

          Unlikely and less likely are not equivalent.

        • Kevin H says:

          Unlikely and less likely are not equivalent.

          Let me actually expand upon that. I find it less likely that the word was omitted than a paralleling error was made.

          But, on further thought, I actually do find it unlikely the word was omitted. Maine’s style is to omit the serial comma. So I find it unlikely that an error of omitting the conjunction appears to have led directly to the writer accidentally conforming to Maine’s style guidelines on serial commas. Then, further, that after the accidental omission and accidental style compliance, the writer should have gone back and broken style to add an Oxford comma for clarity.

          Or the writer could have said what they meant.

          Does Occam’s razor come into play at any point? This is why I said we found ourselves an activist judge — not political, but a grammar activist who seemed extremely interested in making a point about Oxford commas, regardless of the words in front of him.

          • Crispin Miller says:

            OK, trying to stay with you —

            First of all, could you mention where this “Maine’s style” you refer to is found? A stylebook for legislators, perhaps?

            And then I’m trying to follow your detective scenario as to what does or doesn’t conform, and is or isn’t likely, in the construction in question — which is quoted in the article above as:

            The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: [etc.]

            OK, so if, as you hold, the intent was for “distribution” to be the final item of the main list (rather than being the second half of a compound final item “shipment or distribution”), then the absence of a comma after “shipment” is an omission of serial comma, conforming to the Maine style you report, yes? So how is it accidental to have no comma there if Maine says to use no comma there?

            And on the other hand if “packing” had been preceded by an “or”, with the intent that “shipment or distribution” should be a compound final item instead, then there wouldn’t be a comma after “shipment” then, either…

            — so then how does the absence of a comma after “shipment” make it unlikely for there to have been an “or” lost before “packing”?

            And then what Oxford comma are you referring to, that would be unlikely for the writer to have gone back and added in the lost-conjunction case?

            I do see that if there had been an “or” there, that the comma which is there now (if it were also there when the “or” was there) would be an Oxford comma — but that wouldn’t seem to be what you’re describing.

            And anyway that comma might not have been there then. If there is an “or” lost, it could have happened various ways — in an earlier draft the list might have had more items before “packing,” followed by an “or” which the drafter would have needed to shift to the left when the extra items were deleted — and could have failed to restore at the new position. Roll your eyes if you like, but you’re surely no stranger to editing glitches, and regarding Occam’s razor I don’t see this possibility as any odder than the failure of “distribution” to be a parallel form to the unbroken string of eight gerunds you think it belongs with. (Apologies to Bob who pointed that out, whom I called Sam last time.) And while I’ve honestly sought to follow your reasoning in all I’ve written here this time, in view of that issue of parallel structure I do object to your smear of the judge as being a zealot “regardless of the words in front of him.” Zealots and mickey-mice there well may be, but I don’t think he was being one. The words in front of him gave him good reason to rule as he did.

          • Kevin H says:

            Yes, I did assume that with the degree you want to argue and the insistence that the judge’s ruling was correct that you’d read the actual ruling.

            Maine has a legislative style guide in which it states to omit the Oxford comma. It’s mentioned by the judge in the ruling, so I haven’t felt a need to confirm it.

            Back to the language:

            “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of”

            I of course am arguing that it clearly states:

            “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, {packing for shipment} or {distribution of},” as the coordinating conjunction in an itemized list indicates you’re about to name the final item under such guidelines.

            For “packaging for shipment or distribution of” to be grouped, you would need another coordinating conjunction, regardless of that guideline:

            “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, (or) {packing for shipment or distribution of}”

            However, you’ll note that the now-included coordinating conjunction is preceded by an Oxford comma, which would not be Maine’s legislative style.

            If the known quantity is that Maine’s style is to omit the Oxford comma, meaning the only coordinating conjunction in a series indicates you’re about to name the final item on the list, the judge is taking an extreme position to suggest that the writer accidentally broke style by including an Oxford comma before the omitted “or,” then accidentally left out the coordinating “or,” which flipped him 180 to be accidentally back using Maine’s style again — but should have then broken style to add another Oxford comma after shipment if the writer meant to separate shipment and distribution.

            It’s a complete nonsense interpretation compared with the notion that the writer adhered to style guidelines and wrote exactly what he meant under those guidelines — particularly given that the state was the defendant, and an argument that matches this interpretation should have been regarded as the state’s intent unless clear evidence could be shown otherwise.

          • kenneth nutt says:

            Great news,have used the Oxford Comma all my writing life,i was educated in Oxfordshire as it happens so maybe it’s made it easier for me,can’t understand the problem people have with it.!

          • Andy says:

            If the quality of their grammar and punctuation used in these comments is an indicator, very few of this blog’s readers can be trusted.

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