Lifelifepopulistgrammar

Thu Mar 16, 2017, 08:19 PM

anybody wanna argue about the Oxford comma?

It is the bane of my professional existence. I hate it.

A court’s decision in a Maine labor dispute hinged on the absence of an Oxford comma

On March 13, a US court of appeals determined that certain clauses of Maine’s overtime laws are grammatically ambiguous. Because of that lack of clarity, the five drivers won their appeal and were found eligible for overtime. The case now can be heard in a lower court.

The profoundly nerdy ruling is also a win for anyone who dogmatically defends the serial comma.

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.


... Maine has a style guide for legislation, and Oakhurst had argued it expressly instructs law-writers not to use the serial comma:

Do not write:
Trailers, semitrailers, and pole trailers
Write:
Trailers, semitrailers and pole trailers

But, as the appeals court argues—and the style guide shows—clarity is of the utmost importance when a list is ambiguous.


(non-paywall link to the Court's decision: http://media.ca1.uscourts.gov/pdf.opinions/16-1901P-01A.pdf)

The list is not ambiguous!

As a die-hard opponent of the Oxford comma (a comma is a substitute for a conjunction), I cannot possibly read this as meaning that "packing for shipment" and "distribution" are not two different things. If it were meant to mean "packing for shipment or packing for distribution", as the court ruled it did, there would have to be an "or" before "packing".

The French speakers can go ahead and write their lists without conjunctions

(French sentences are rife with things like:
She eats apples, pears, oranges, kiwis
leaving me constantly asking: and what??)

but we aren't French speakers, we speak English!


9 votes, 0 passes | Time left: Unlimited
I oppose the Oxford comma but will defend to the death your right to use it.
2 (22%)
You illiterate baboon; the Oxford comma is the hallmark of civilization.
7 (78%)
Wut?
0 (0%)
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Response to i verglas (Original post)

Thu Mar 16, 2017, 08:25 PM

1. I should have added this from that article:

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.


E.g.:

I went to London and Paris.

I went to London, Paris,* and Rome.
* Oxford comma

NO!!! I went to London, Paris and Rome!!!

The first comma substitutes for "and":

I went to London and Paris and Rome.

The Oxford comma makes the sentence read:

I went to London and Paris and and Rome.

Ewwww.



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Response to i verglas (Original post)

Thu Mar 16, 2017, 08:27 PM

2. All of my assets shall be liquidated and divided evenly among Buddy, Susie, Fred and Mary.

Do Fred and Mary each get 1/4, or 1/6?

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Response to Duke Lacrosse (Reply #2)

Thu Mar 16, 2017, 08:40 PM

3. 1/4 !

Each of Buddy, Susie, Fred and Mary gets 1/4!

If it were meant to be divided into thirds, with Fred and Mary each getting 1/2 of 1/3 (i.e. 1/6), it would have to be:

All of my assets shall be liquidated and divided evenly among Buddy, Susie and Fred and Mary.

But as these arguments usually go, the next response is: smart people think of non-ambiguous ways of saying it:

All of my assets shall be liquidated and divided into four parts, and Buddy, Susie, Fred and Mary shall each receive one part.

All of my assets shall be liquidated and divided into three parts; Buddy and Susie shall each receive one part, and one part shall be divided between Fred and Mary.
or
All of my assets shall be liquidated and divided into six parts; Buddy and Susie shall each receive two parts, and Fred and Mary shall each receive one part.

depending on what the intention was. But I think the intention is clear in your original sentence: four equal parts, one to each of the four people.

Next we can do the archaic legalese "shall" ... and USAmerican lawyers' particular fondness for archaic formulations in their drafting ...

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Response to i verglas (Original post)

Thu Mar 16, 2017, 08:48 PM

4. Sorry, but when I read your bolded paragraph, I figured that that was a key part, and when I read...

..."... packing for shipment or distribution of:" I saw that failing to place a comma after "shipment"  would properly be a point of contention. But I wonder whether another question might have arisen, that being that the task of "packing" itself might have been excluded from overtime pay, but that "shipment" and "distribution" might be tasks which remain eligible for overtime!...

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Response to Gamle-ged (Reply #4)

Thu Mar 16, 2017, 09:07 PM

6. the context was a bit clipped

From the judgment:

Specifically, Exemption F states that the protection of the overtime law does not apply to:

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.

That might clear up any confusion about whether all of the things in the list (however the list is interpreted) are covered by the exemption?

To me, it could not be plainer that the protection does not apply to:
canning
processing
preserving
freezing
drying
marketing
storing
packing for shipment
distribution

To mean what the court said it meant, it would HAVE to say:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, OR packing for shipment or distribution of ...

(Edit: but without the comma after "storing" of course ... and then some Oxford comma fanatic will try to claim that the sentence would mean "storing for shipment or distribution OR packing for shipment or distribution" ... in which case there would have to be an OR after "marketing" ... )

That is the only way that {packing for shipment or distribution} can be seen as a single item!

Not the worker-favourable outcome, but grammar prevails over ideology.

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Response to i verglas (Original post)

Thu Mar 16, 2017, 09:03 PM

5. Strunk and White,

the Chicago Manual of Style, Follett's Modern American Usge, The United States Government Printing Office, The AMA manual of Style, The Publication Manual of the APA, The CSE Manual for Authors, Editors and Publishers, Garner's Modern English Usage, The MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, AND the AMTT Book of Style for Medical Transcription all endorse the Oxford comma. That is all you need to know. Now shape up, dammit!

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Response to tikal (Reply #5)

Thu Mar 16, 2017, 09:24 PM

7. actually what I need to know

is the The Canadian Style, which governs me ... and which, of course, demands the Oxford comma.

OMG, fake news about the Oxford Comma! (PDF download)

Last June, WCE staffers were shocked to learn that the Oxford University Press had called for an end to the serial comma. “How can this be?” they cried, “at Oxford University Press of all places—the birthplace of the serial comma!”

Hearts were heavy. Eyes were red.

But there it was—a link on GalleyCat’s Twitter feed to the University of Oxford’s writing and style guide:

As a general rule, do not use the serial/Oxford comma: so write “a, b and c” not “a, b, and c.”

After the initial shock, staffers rallied and headed for their keyboards. A few keystrokes later and their fears were calmed. The Oxford University Press had not spurned the serial comma; relations were good.

So what happened? The answer lay in what hadn’t happened: fact checking. GalleyCat had received the (mis)information and re-tweeted it without first verifying the assertions: the University of Oxford Public Affairs Directorate had changed its policy on the serial comma, not the Oxford University Press.

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Response to i verglas (Reply #7)

Tue Mar 21, 2017, 06:20 PM

15. It don't matter a hoot what Galley Cat received.

There's two kinds a English: There's English English, which is kinda prissy and sissy and stuck up, and there's Amurkan English, which is real Engilish like for Amurkans and Canuks too. There ain't no goddamn Canadian English, now way, no how.

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Response to i verglas (Original post)

Thu Mar 16, 2017, 10:36 PM

8. Now, what about those reports of kids falling into a deep sleep after breakfasting, reported as...

... "The Cereal Coma?"...

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Response to Gamle-ged (Reply #8)

Thu Mar 16, 2017, 10:48 PM

9. cereally ...

http://iwilldare.com/2002/08/the-battle-of-the-serial-comma/

No, that is not I. I am much more glamorous, and I capitalize properly.

From the comments:
WHAT’S THIS I HEAR about hating the cereal comma? Why, if we didn’t have the cereal coma, who would buy Honey, Nuts & Oats??

Emily L.

I'm not sure whether Bonny meant coma or comma ...

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Response to i verglas (Reply #9)

Thu Mar 16, 2017, 10:54 PM

10. If that were Berenice, rather than Bonny, the choice would be quite easy...

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Response to i verglas (Original post)

Thu Mar 16, 2017, 11:40 PM

11. I prefer it.

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Response to i verglas (Original post)

Fri Mar 17, 2017, 03:22 AM

12. i was taught it was "optional."

Last edited Fri Mar 17, 2017, 05:22 AM - Edit history (1)

the article had me scratching my head.

maine law requires any law that could be ambiguous to be interpreted literally. if the damn thing is ambiguous it has 2 possible literal interpretations.

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Response to rampartb (Reply #12)

Fri Mar 17, 2017, 04:04 AM

13. well, grammar and statutory construction co-exist ;)

Literal interpretation, in statutory construction, is one approach, but there are various others. Traditionally (and I think in the US) there are the golden rule and mischief rule. The Canadian courts are all into contextual/purposive interpretation.

http://e-lawresources.co.uk/Literal-rule.php
The literal rule of statutory interpretation should be the first rule applied by judges. Under the literal rule, the words of the statute are given their natural or ordinary meaning and applied without the judge seeking to put a gloss on the words or seek to make sense of the statute.


So I guess it was referring to the words themselves, rather than the sentence? I don't see what you're referring to in the article or the judgment, but I'm curious.

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Response to i verglas (Reply #13)

Fri Mar 17, 2017, 05:36 AM

14. i can't find the article i read that in about maine, but here is a story

about the comma's absence saving the defendant's life .....

http://apps.americanbar.org/litigation/committees/criminal/articles/spring2015-0315-serial-comma-interpreting-criminal-statutes.html

incredibly, american "conservatives" consider the ABA to be a lib'rul organization. they prefer judges recommended by the federalist society.

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Response to i verglas (Original post)

Thu Mar 23, 2017, 10:32 AM

16. It is terrible to admit but,

when writing for business I use the oxford comma because I went to Catholic school where we were taught to use it. It is ingrained, when writing a formal letter use the oxford comma.

My parents sent me to Catholic school, rather than home school me, or sending me to public school, or not sending me to school at all. They were correct in one regard Catholic school cured me of all religious leanings, we used to refer to the course, Problems in Faith, as Atheism 101.

On a strictly personal basis when writing posts here i try to be reasonably grammatical, watch my spelling, and capitalization but i will use ..... and other incorrect forms to make a point or to just try and be somewhat conversational. The people i despair of though try to use colorful writing as an excuse to call you ill educated I find that is largely because they are incapable of having a logical stream of consciousness. or h of having their minds changed.

Finally if you can make yourself absolutely clear in a legal or business setting without using the oxford comma i think you should be free to do that.The problem, of course, is always that group of people who practice deliberate misunderstanding in order to win a point rather than in order to do the right thing.

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