Gregory Heilers
Published Jun 01, 2018
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While some consider the Oxford comma overrated, I will obstinately defend its virtues to the end. Also known as the serial comma, the Oxford comma is used before "and" in lists of three or more items.

To bolster my position, here are three awful Oxford comma bloopers every writer should strive to avoid.

Contents:

  1. Accidental Association
  2. Comma Cannibalism
  3. The $10 Million Comma

Accidental Association

The infamous (and likely apocryphal) book dedication, "This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God."

As the author was almost surely not the progeny of Ayn Rand and an immortal whom billions worship, the author likely meant to convey their appreciation for four distinct beings. We’ll never know, though, since they omitted the one critical component to every list, the Oxford comma!

Comma Cannibalism

Things got desperate for culinary star Rachael Ray, or so millions of hoodwinked readers thought. In 2010, Tails magazine produced a cover for its pet-loving magazine with text that read, “Rachael Ray finds inspiration in cooking her family and her dog.”

One clever Photoshop artist had removed the two commas in the original, prompting horror among fans who immediately grew concerned for the sweet pup in Rachael’s arms.

The $10 Million Comma

Last year, to the delight of serious grammarians, and 75 claimants, the lack of an Oxford comma won a $10 million lawsuit against Oakhurst Dairy of Portland, Maine. To be sure, the leadership at Oakhurst Dairy must have been extremely frustrated with the sloppy, non-Oxford-comma-respecting syntax of Maine legislators.

A short section of Maine state law allowed three truck drivers to sue Oakhurst Dairy for millions of dollars of overtime pay (on behalf of 75 other drivers). The offending excerpt?

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

These duties were considered ineligible for overtime wages. The drivers, who clearly supported the “distribution” segment of the supply chain, made a strong enough case that the intention behind the law was to exempt “packing for shipment or distribution,” not “packing for shipment, or distribution.”

Maine CDL Testing? $35. CDL Training in Maine? $4,000. Missing Oxford comma? $10 million.

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Greg Heilers is a content writer (gpheilers.com) and co-founder of Jolly Content. Long form content writing is his sweet spot, but he also enjoys a good listicle, so long as the Oxford comma is present. He avoids $10 million lawsuits by using the Oxford comma properly in every contract he signs.