Let’s Eat Grandma

John Birmingham’s latest is a joy to the grammarnazis of the internetz. I hope y’all like it!

“Who gives a fuck about the Oxford Comma?” Vampire Weekend asked on their eponymous first album. The hard-working truck drivers of the Oakhurst Dairy company in the great state of Maine, that’s who. A dispute with their bosses over whether they should be paid overtime came down to the lack of an Oxford comma in the state’s law regulating who gets paid a little bit more for working extra hours.

What is the Oxford comma?

It’s the one that parks itself before ‘and’ in a series of three or more things. If, for instance, you are planning a private party in the Moscow Hilton and you sent a note to the concierge asking him to “invite the hookers, Trump and Putin,” he can rightly blame you when the only guests who show up are a couple of transsexual despot-cosplayers.

You should have invited “the hookers, Trump, and Putin”.

That one little comma makes all the diff.

If you work in the food biz in Maine you can’t get overtime for all sorts of things, including “canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution.”

So basically, you can’t get overtime.

Except, as the word nerds in the truckers’ union argued, and the First Circuit Court of Appeals recently agreed, the lack of a comma after the word ‘shipment’ turned “packing for shipment or distribution,” into a single activity.

And since milk truck drivers are really fuckin’ hard characters who don’t mess with none of that unseemly, low status, packing bullshit—like those lazyass, broke-dick, cheese juggling fools from the dairy product packers union—they are legally entitled to, and totally gonna get, their overtime.

Because they only distribute. They don’t pack.

Circuit Judge Barron agreed.

“For the want of a comma,” he wrote in his judgment, “we have this case.”

And the drivers suddenly had millions of dollars owed them in unpaid overtime.

Vampire Weekend be damned, the Oxford comma is important, people. (And anyway, the bitey weekenders go on to sing “So if there’s any other way/To spell the word/It’s fine with me,” which confirms for me they have no idea what they’re talking about because their stupid song is supposed to be about grammar not spelling. 0 out of 10. Must try harder, emo-weenies.)

The comma itself was invented by Aldo Manuzio, a printer working in Venice, in the early 1500s. Aldo was a man ahead of his time, an intellectual property pirate when most pirates were still climbing over the gunwales of fat merchant galleons for a living. Aldo was bootlegging copies of the Greek classics which were chock full of lists of things; the different types of snakes in Medusa’s deadly wonder weave, all the things that Hercules punched, the forty-five times that Xerxes the so-called God-king was really just a dick. Aldo thought it would help his readers if he could separate Medusa’s snakes from Xerxes dick moments.

He was right.

But do you still need it? How many commas will you fire at the page or screen this week as you go about your work, post your Facebook updates, tweet your low opinion of the contestants on Married at First Sight? Are you likely to find yourself millions of dollars in debt to scary milk van drivers if you mess up?

Maybe not, but there’s two ways to come at this. Use commas for clarity, or cut them for flow.

My favourite comma story belong to the foundation editor of The New Yorker, Harold Ross, who insisted on the first comma in the sentence, “After dinner, the men went into the living-room.” When asked why, Ross answered that the comma gave the men in the story time to push their chairs back and stand up. This, and our Moscow hotel room party gone horribly wrong, are examples of using commas for clarity.

Removing them from the phrase “the old red white and blue,” demonstrates the flow that can be unleashed when all of Aldo Manuzio’s little grammar pebbles are swept out of the stream.

The bottom line?

Suit yourself. But if you don’t use the Oxford comma, get ready to pay off that overtime bill and those Russian trannies.

306 thoughts on “Let’s Eat Grandma

  1. A homegrown nutter

    The attacker, identified by police as Khalid Masood, born in Kent, was also a violent criminal convicted of multiple offences spanning 20 years, said Scotland Yard.

    His offences included assaults, grievous bodily harm, possession of offensive weapons and public order offences. He had spent time in jail but not for terrorist-related offences, according to Amber Rudd, the home secretary.

    As police began to unravel his complex life it was reported that Masood had a string of aliases and was said have to been born Adrian Elms in Kent in 1964.


    • 15 minutes later, he has a different birth name:

      Scotland Yard’s top anti-terror officer Mark Rowley has just given a briefing.

      He named the 75-year-old man who died overnight as Leslie Rhodes from Streatham.

      He said Masood’s birth name was Adrian Russell Ajao.

      He said two more “significant arrests” have been made in the West Midlands and north west.

  2. Very disappointing. Trudeau appears to have abandoned seeking voting reform in Canada.


    In my view, Canada adopting Australia’s preferential voting system would have been a fantastic result (at the very least made optional). It at least is better than first past the post, where candidates can get elected with barely 25% of the vote sometimes (especially in Quebec).

    Proportional representation would also be a good option. But I never believe FPTP is a good thing.

  3. Over in WA, the results for South West have been declared for the upper house.

    2 ALP, 1 Lib, 1 Nat, 1 ONP, 1 Green.
    (-2 Lib, +1 ONP, +1 Green)

    • So far that’s 6 Labor, 3 Liberal, 4 National, 2 One Nation, 2 Greens and 1 Shooters so far.

      Now awaiting the Metropolitan results, which may be delayed until tomorrow.

  4. And a bit of a shock for East Metro of One Nation beating the 2nd Liberal.

    3 ALP, 1 Lib, 1 ONP, 1 Green
    (-2 Lib, +1 ONP, +1 Green).

    That makes it 9 Labor, 4 Liberal, 4 National, 3 One Nation, 3 Greens and 1 Shooter, with 2 more regions remaining.

    • It doesn’t really matter how many places One Nation wins, they will always vote with the Liberals.

      A vote for One Nation is a vote for the Liberal Party.

  5. Actually on that subject, the One Nation MLC victor for East Metropolitan, Charles Smith, made a public spray against the One Nation-Liberal preference deal during the election. So he for one might be more positively disposed toward Labor maybe?

    At least in the sense that he probably won’t be one who’s happy about voting with the Liberals on everything.

    • No chance of him voting any way but as he’s told, unless he leaves One Nation. Which is very possible, given his spray and ON’s past record of defections.

    • More like a hung upper house.

      Labor and the Greens have 18 members, the assorted conservative types have 18. It probably comes down to how the Shooters and Fishers one member and the Liberal Democrats one member decide to vote. That is assuming the Greens decide to vote with Labor, and that might not happen.

      It will be interesting to see if the Nats decide to do their own thing or stick with voting with the Liberals.

    • I detect much jest. As there was in many “fading curtains”: and cows not milking letters to the Editor.

  6. If you want to know what real Kiwi lingo sounds like check out this recording. A Kiwi cop speaks to a guy involved in a siege. Gives me a lol when I go back to home territory to find how easily i slip into speaking like this after only a few days.

    Translation Whanau ( Far Now) = Family , Dairy = Deli

    CTar1 ya like the army gear in the vid ? Taking no chances !

    It sounds like an ordinary conversation, between two ordinary blokes. The sort of chat you might hear at the pub, or the dairy, or around the dinner table.

    But this is how Inspector Warwick Morehu ended a 22-hour siege involving Rhys Warren; holed up inside his grandmother’s home after a gunfight which left four police officers hurt.


    • Thank, KK. 🙂

      At 2:00, is the Inspector saying “watching the whare” (house, building)?
      (“Far Ray” sounds more like “curry”.)

  7. Jaeger

    yep , whare your family home
    Be the whare humble

    or grand

    or just ………


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