Our Senior Partner, Duncan Macintosh, looks at how the oxford comma has helped drivers win dispute about overtime pay.
For those who care about the written word, this American case has been a small piece of manna from heaven. If you love language, you care about the way it is used. Punctuation is fundamental to its use; the greatest book in the English language (well possibly not the greatest…) remains Lynne Truss’ “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”. Here is another example of a balloon deflated by careless expression – in this case, punctuation.
I am a lawyer, so accuracy of expression is as important as porridge is for breakfast. Good punctuation is critical to accuracy of expression. See above.
But no matter how accurately an idea is expressed (and punctuated) there is a secondary, and too often overlooked, need to express it interestingly. The world is full of words, jumbled up and mashed together - long sinews of letters seemingly joined at random. Much may make sense, but fail to be understood. We are asked to read so much now that is unremittingly dull that we lose the will to concentrate – and the message is lost.
My point is simply this:
- make sure you have something that needs to be said before you say anything
- say it carefully, using accurate words properly punctuated
- and last but by no means least, say it interestingly.
There’s no point saying something that leaves your audience sinking into a coma before they get to the point.
Never let it be said that punctuation doesn’t matter. In Maine, the much-disputed Oxford comma has helped a group of dairy drivers in a dispute with a company about overtime pay. The Oxford comma is used before the words “and” or “or” in a list of three or more things. Also known as the serial comma, its aficionados say it clarifies sentences in which things are listed.