Be Cautious while writing Business Documents: A Single Comma can cost $5 Million!

Oxford Comma (Also called as Serial Comma)

A single comma can cost $5 Million!


Read this simple sentence:

“I tried on the red, black, & blue hats.” (The comma after ‘black’ is Oxford Comma.)

This sentence simply means, I tried hats of 3 colors.

(Source: Google Images)

Now, Reread the sentence again:

“I tried on the red, black & blue hats.”

black & blue’ as per Oxford Dictionary is a phrase or an idiom which simply means: Bruises (Having Dark Marks).

This sentence means: I tried old, & bruised hats of red colors.

(Source: Google Images)

See the difference!


Now Coming back to the story:

Oakhurst Dairy settled an overtime dispute in which it agreed to pay $5 million to the drivers.

The case gained international notoriety when the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that the missing comma created enough uncertainty to side with the drivers.

The case began in 2014, when three truck drivers sued the dairy for what they said was four years’ worth of overtime pay they had been denied. Maine law requires time-and-a-half pay for each hour worked after 40 hours, but it carved out exemptions 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.

What followed the last comma in the first sentence was the crux of the matter: “packing for shipment or distribution of.”

The court ruled that it was not clear whether the law exempted the distribution of the three categories that followed, or if it exempted packing for the shipment or distribution of them.

Had there been a comma after “shipment,” the meaning would have been clear. [1, 2]

Since then, the Maine Legislature addressed the punctuation problem.

Read the updated version:

The canning; processing; preserving; freezing; drying; marketing; storing; packing for shipment; or distributing of:

(1) Agricultural produce;

(2) Meat and fish products; and

(3) Perishable foods.


~ Next time, when you’re asked to write an essay, a report, or a business document: Do take care of this Serial Comma.

~ A single comma can help you save a substantial fortune for your Business!

You can also read:

  1. The 3 Laws of Happiness!
  2. The Kindness Project: 9 Random Acts of Kindness that You should Practise on Your Birthday!
  3. A Quick & Very Simple Way to do- Meditation
  4. If you want to win, then compete with yourself!

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