On the case of the Maine milk-truck drivers who, for want of a comma, won an appeal against their employer, Oakhurst Dairy. - From The New Yorker
The case of the Maine milk-truck drivers who, for want of a comma, won an appeal against their employer, Oakhurst Dairy, regarding overtime pay (O’Connor v.
While advocates of the serial comma are happy for the truck drivers’ victory, it was actually the lack of said comma that won the day.
Lawyers for the defense conceded that the statement was ambiguous (the State of Maine specifically instructs drafters of legal statutes not to use the serial comma) but argued that it had “a latent clarity.” The truck drivers, for their part, pointed out that, in addition to the missing comma, the law as written flouts “the parallel usage convention.” “Distribution” is a noun, and syntactically it belongs with “shipment,” also a noun, as an object of the preposition “for.” To make the statute read the way the defendant claims it was intended to be read, the writers would have had to use “distributing,” a gerund—a verb that has been twisted into a noun—which would make it parallel with the other items in the series: “canning, processing,” etc.
To the defendant’s contention that the series, in order to support the drivers’ reading, would have to contain a conjunction—“and”—before “packing,” the drivers, citing Antonin Scalia and Bryan Garner, said that the missing “and” was an instance of the rhetorical device called “asyndeton,” defined as “the omission or absence of a conjunction between parts of a sentence.” Lest we lose perspective, this law on the books of the State of Maine applies to people who work with perishable foods, and the point is that pokey employees should not be rewarded for taking their sweet time getting the goods to market.
It’s got David and Goliath in the story of the little guy sticking it to a corporate boss.