Language Log often weighs in when courts try to nail down the meaning of a statute. Laws are written in natural language—though one might long, by formalization, to end the thousand natural ambiguities that text is heir to—and thus judges are forced to play linguist.
Happily, this week's "case in the news" is one where the lawyers managed to identify several relevant considerations and bring them to the judges for weighing.
Most news outlets reported the case as being about the Oxford comma (or serial comma)—the optional comma just before the end of a list. Here, for example, is the New York Times:
- Lack of Oxford Comma Could Cost Maine Company Millions in Overtime Dispute (news article)
- For Want of a Comma (opinion piece)
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