Not since Lynne Truss published Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation have I laughed so hard at something so small: an ear-shaped part of punctuation.
Writing for The Guardian, Elena Cresci (@elenacresci) penned a fantastic piece entitled “Oxford comma helps drivers win dispute about overtime pay.” Who, the, what, the, where? The situation basically came down to this:
“In Maine, the much-disputed Oxford comma has helped a group of dairy drivers in a dispute with a company about overtime pay.
In a judgment that will delight Oxford comma enthusiasts everywhere, a US court of appeals sided with delivery drivers for Oakhurst Dairy because the lack of a comma made part of Maine’s overtime laws too ambiguous.”
Why the big deal, then? Well, consider an example Ms. Truss uses right there in her title. What’s the definition of a panda?
Panda: Eats shoots and leaves.
Panda: Eats, shoots and leaves.
With the former, we’ve got a cuddly bear that consumes bamboo and some shrub leaves. In the case of the latter, we’ve got a gangsta’ bear gone rogue, gun in hand, as it fires away and takes its leave. Done and done yo! Sorry, Done and done, yo!
Another example offered as damning evidence of that damned comma rearing its head (or not) in The Guardian article comes from what appears to be a book’s Acknowledgements section, in which the author wants to thank four special people. Or is it, in fact, two?
“This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”
According to the punctuation, it sure as Shirley looks like the author won the parent lottery and got a Russian-American author as a mother and the Supreme Being as a Father. Sweet!
Anyway, you can read the article for yourself, or not, and then ponder the role and importance of commas, or perhaps ignore the issue, before scratching your head and asking yourself, Does a comma really demand this much respect?
Best ask Oakhurst Dairy for the answer. They’re the ones now on the hook for overtime pay because of that wily pest that, it seems, just won’t, you know, go away, even if you beg it to just fall into a coma, or maybe…