Back in the Dark Ages, I used to teach English Language at college level in the U.K. Yes, an American teaching English to the English may sound funny, but when I was handed papers that actually had “ad” instead of “had” and knew not the first thing about grammar, well, I had found my calling. So you can imagine that I’m a pretty strict grammarian. Even now, in this Age of Enlightenment, I like my commas—especially the Oxford Comma. I even like semi-colons, and I always got a laugh when I opened one class for scientists with: “Thompson found, after being submerged in the solution for nine hours . . .” Ah, the misplaced modifier! But I digress.
Most of us have now seen the famous duo of sentences, ‘Let’s eat, Grandma,’ and ‘Let’s eat Grandma.’ The difference in meaning is glaringly obvious. But with an Oxford comma, which comes at the end of a list, it might not be so obvious. Someone working for Oakhurst dairy in Maine didn’t think that comma made any difference, but it did—to the tune of a $5M settlement. Three truck drivers read that overtime would not be paid for time spent “canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of . . .” produce. No comma at the end so it means one or the other, whereas the Oakhurst people had thought it meant both. Smart truckers for noticing this! The first court ruled in favor of the dairy; the appeals court ruled for the truckers and the above settlement has been reached.
Some authors now seem to think they can do away with commas altogether. It amazes me because Word comes up with those squiggly green lines when you leave one out. Word doesn’t seem to have any mark to tell you when a semicolon is due—a semicolon separates two halves of the same thought in a sentence—but nowadays most authors seem to just write a separate sentence. I regret that, but I understand I’m probably alone in this moan. The Chicago Manual of Style gives them a small section saying, “Though the semicolon is less frequently employed today than in the past, it is still occasionally used . . . ”
And what does the Chicago Manual of Style say about my beloved Oxford Comma? Well, we’re in the United States and it says nothing. Nothing! Yet there, at point 5.60, discussing lists, the Oxford comma is sitting pretty. “The carpenter’s saw, hammer, level, and so forth were found.”
If you’d rather listen to books than worry as you read about whether they have commas in the right place, hop over to either https://www.amazon.com/Lawless-Love-Lawmen-and-Outlaws/dp/B078KH5WPS/https://www.amazon.com/Dearest-Darling-Love-Letters/dp/B075D9M43X/