An Oxford comma changed this court case completely

Story highlights

  • Case dealt with a minor mark in a labor law
  • The result was a grammar nerd's dream

(CNN)If you have ever doubted the importance of the humble Oxford comma, let this supremely persnickety Maine labor dispute set you straight.

A group of dairy drivers argued that they deserved overtime pay for certain tasks they had completed. The company said they did not. An appeals court sided with the drivers, saying that the guidelines themselves were made too ambiguous by, you guessed it, a lack of an Oxford comma.
This is what the law says about activities that do NOT merit overtime pay. Pay attention to the first sentence:
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.
That's a lot of things! But if we're getting picky, is packing for shipment its own activity, or does it only apply to the rest of that clause, i.e. the distribution of agricultural produce, etc.?
What is an Oxford comma?

Also known as a serial comma, an Oxford comma is the comma between the penultimate and final items in a written list. Here it is, using a classic example from The Gloss:

We invited the strippers, JFK, and Stalin.

The comma between JFK and Stalin is the Oxford comma.

Proponents say it helps eliminate ambiguity. (For instance, without the Oxford comma above, would that mean JFK and Stalin were the strippers?)

Critics say it is just cumbersome.