Sunday, March 19, 2017

Milk and Serial

As reported by The New York Times, a Maine appeals court has ruled a group of dairy workers deserve back pay because a state overtime law lacks a serial comma.

Five delivery drivers sued Oakhurst Dairy, claiming the company denied them overtime pay.

The judge hearing the case determined Maine's overtime law doesn't exempt the dairy from paying its drivers.

The law states workers need not receive 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 judge ruled, because there's no comma after "shipment," the drivers deserve overtime pay. Why? The drivers don't pack perishable foods for shipment; they only distribute them.

The comma missing in Maine's overtime law is the "serial comma" (also known as the "Oxford comma").  

When used, the serial comma precedes the last in a series of things, reducing ambiguity. For example:

Before the secret meeting, Putin invited the hackers, Sushchin, and Dokuchaev.

Without the serial comma, the sentence could be understood to mean Sushchin and Dokuchaev were a team of hackers (they're actually spies):

Before the secret meeting, Putin invited the hackers, Sushchin and Dokuchaev.

Got it?

PS: Everything you ever wanted to know about the serial comma will be covered in my forthcoming manual, Comma Sutra. Among other things, it will explain when and where to insert it to achieve total satisfaction. Look for it wherever adult books are sold.
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