Do you use the Oxford comma or do you omit it? Some grammar sages say to either keep it or omit it, unless omitting the Oxford comma will make the meaning of the sentence unclear. Others tout that not using the Oxford Comma is a sin punishable by twenty lashes with a wet comma.
I believe that the only rules are to be consistent with whether or not you use the Oxford comma, and always use it when your series-sentences are not clear.
There is a recent court case in Maine where the failure to use an Oxford Comma in Maine resulted in an ambiguous law. Even though this legal mishap has been all over the news, I researched the Maine statute. Title 26 of the Labor and Industry, section 664(F), says that overtime pay does not apply to:
F. 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.
Notice the highlighted portion above. I can see how this law is ambiguous because we don’t know if overtime is not allowed when it comes to “packing for distribution or shipping,” or if packing for distribution is separate from shipping. Because of the lack of a comma, an employee won his suit for overtime pay.
If the usage of the Oxford comma is so serious when it comes to the law, then it must be taken seriously when we write our articles and our stories. We want clear and concise writing. Does this mean that we should always use the Oxford comma?
Personally, I believe whether or not to use the Oxford comma is a personal choice. The most important thing is to make sure our writing is clear and concise.
This week as your write your wonderful story, grueling article, or fantastic legal brief, your priority is to create sentences that do not confuse the reader. How you get there is completely up to you.