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 review of a couple of books. Pubsters with experience in the world of academe may recognise a bit of this. Interesting to see where the neo liberals original aim. Worthy but sadly it has been used for evil rather than “niceness’

    How we lost the world-changing power of useless knowledge

    ……………………………The administrative burdens and stultifying oversight structures throttling today’s scholars come not from Soviet-style central planning, but from the application of market principles – an irony that the sociologist Lawrence Busch explores exhaustively in his monograph Knowledge for Sale.

    Busch explains how the first neo-liberal thinkers sought to prevent the rise of totalitarian regimes by replacing governance with markets. Those thinkers believed that markets were safer than governments because they were cybernetic and so corrected themselves. Right?

    Wrong: Busch provides ghastly disproofs of this neo-liberal vision from within the hall of academe, from bad habits such as a focus on counting citations and publication output, through fraud, to existential crises such as the shift in the ideal of education from a public to a private good……………..


  2. http://www.essentialvision.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Essential-Report_170321.pdf full details including extra questions in the pdf.



    I will be interested to see William’s aggregate later this week. I think he weights Newspoll higher too, but not as much as Kevin does.

  3. Interesting to see 71% of Liberal supporters approve of what Whetheril is doing in SA re power. Only a couple of % less than Labor supporters.

  4. https://www.beyondblue.org.au/media/media-releases/media-releases/jeff-kennett-hands-the-reins-of-beyondblue-to

    Media releases
    Jeff Kennett hands the reins of beyondblue to Julia Gillard
    21 Mar 2017
    Former Australian Prime Minister, The Hon. Julia Gillard AC, has been named the new Chair of beyondblue and will take over from The Hon. Jeff Kennett AC, when he hands over the reins at the end of June.

    video transcript

  5. The flipping of lids continues

    The US Government is temporarily barring passengers on certain nonstop US-bound flights from bringing laptops, iPads, cameras and some other electronics in carry-on luggage.

    The ban was revealed Monday in statements from Royal Jordanian Airlines and the official news agency of Saudi Arabia.

    A US official said the ban would apply to nonstop flights to the US from 10 airports in eight countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

    The official did not name the airports or the countries but said no American carriers would be affected by the ban.


  6. If there is any remnant of integrity left within the husk that is Malcolm this pure unadulterated lie should shrivel it just a little more.

    Malcolm Turnbull: we are defending Australians from racial vilification with a stronger fairer law…………The new language will better and more clearly protect people from racial vilification


  7. Turnbull’s changing thoughts on 18c.

    Not long before he knifed Abbott Turnbull promised to make changes to 18c, the changes Abbott had dropped. Once he became PM he went back on that promise.

    During last year’s election campaign Turnbull promised there would be no changes to 18c.

    But Mr Turnbull said the government had “no plans” to make any changes to 18C and declared he was not at all “distracted” by the backbench pursuit.

    “The issue of section 18C has been a controversial one for a long time, and there are many views expressed about it and there’s nothing new that is being canvassed at the moment in terms of the debate,” Mr Turnbull said as he visited a building site in Canberra.

    “It’s filled the op-ed pages of newspapers for years and years but the government has no plans to make any changes to section 18C. We have other more pressing, much more pressing priorities to address.

    “I’m talking about the economy, I’m talking about the ABCC, I’m talking about savings, I’m talking about the moral challenge that we have to get our budget back into shape.”


    That promise was dumped as soon as Turnbull was re-elected.

    Now,after a committee report and a whole lot of argy-bargy between party room factions it’s back on – again. It’s amazing what can happen when one’s leadership is yet again under threat.

    We should start referring to Turnbull as ‘Windsock Mal’, because he is so fracking indecisive and swings wildly back and forth depending on the amount of hot air coming from those cabinet factions.

    Today’s MPI will be from Tony Burke on “The need to protect Australians from racial hate speech.”

  8. 🙂

    MarkDiStef: Tim Wilson stands up for a dixer. Labor ERUPT in shouts of “FREEDOM BOY! FREEDOM BOY IS HERE!”

  9. Looks like the Essential poll has put the frighteners up the LNP benches today.

    Turnbull & Barnarby hit their straps and were an octave higher than they were yesterday after the Newspoll which as Aguirre mentioned yesterday understated the real 2 PP figure.

    They seem to just be throwing everything including the kitchen sink out in the hope that something will dig them out of the hole that seems to be getting deeper and deeper by the day.

    What was the old saying about when you are in a hole: stop digging? 😉

  10. Scotty reminds me of a Bulldog that somebody has poked with a stick.

    With his jaw stuck out and becoming so shrill that his voice keeps breaking he’s becoming a comical joke.

    And the Labor opposition smells blood and are targeting the silly sod. He hasn’t worked out why!!!!!

    LOL 😉

  11. This might help explain why Paul Karp was after Turnbull today.

    Turnbull refused to answer his questions yesterday and then had the transcript of that presser altered to leave out a Karp question.

  12. I really don’t understand why the government keeps dragging up things Paul Keating said or did or proposed when he was treasurer or PM. That was almost 25 years ago, things have changed a lot since then, although maybe not in the Liberal Party or in the brains of those in government.

  13. I have made some slight adjustments to the comments section in the hope that they may help with Bk’s Problems posting the Dawn Patrol.
    If not it back to the Gulag for him I’m afraid.

    • Kudos for trying, joe6pack. It must be so frustrating after collating all those links and then have trouble posting them. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that you have solved the problem for BK.

  14. Truffles getting no lurve in today’s deadwood West Australian .Entire front page with “We’re Being Plucked” and a cartoon of Truffles plucking a black swan. A couple of pages in a lovely photo of Truffles with his Mussolini set jaw pose for an article about the $23 billion WA has allegedly been GST short changed. Moving along to the edittorial page we find the main cartoon has rustic Truffles and Mesma in rocking chairson the back veranda looking on as the dunny down the back yard (WA) is ablaze. Truffles on being informed the dunny is on fire says just leave it , it will go out. So all in all WA’s GST whinge has Truffles as the villain.

    Surprised to see on the same page an article saying the super for house deposit idea is a bad one.

  15. Jeez He took a pic while waiting at roadworks. Fair is Fair I would be very cranky if I got busted for that.
    I have done a lot worse.
    That’s a unjust law

    • It’s not unjust. The NSW law is a good one and if it stops idiots texting while driving or negotiating roundabouts at speed with one hand on the wheel and the other on their mobile than I’m all for it.

      You and I might get away with taking a photo while we were stopped for roadworks, but Grant is the Police Minister and should understand road rules. He didn’t. And he was dumb enough to tweet his mistake to the world.

      Someone high-up saw it, obviously. I think he might have been called into the headmistress’s office for a stern chat.

  16. Well he owned up copped a fine and didn’t try and hide it. He was stopped with he engine off. Stupid law and no wonder we get shit politicians when nit picking crap like this is what they have to put up with.

    • “. He was stopped with he engine off.”

      No wonder they say the law is an ass. That sort of crap reminds me of what a US pollie said about “zero tolerance” policies many years ago. “zero tolerance is zero intelligence”

    • Doesn’t say he had the engine off, just stopped for roadworks, and as we can see from the photo, still in the line of traffic, not parked at the side of the road.

      I’m sorry, but I can’t agree with this ‘it’s a stupid law’ thing. Other states might be more lenient, NSW is not and Grant was in the wrong. As police minister he should have known better.

  17. Just because he is police minister doesn’t mean the he has to know every law that’s on the books off the top of his head while he is sitting in the car . He saw a sheep in the back of a car thought it was funny and took a pic
    I,m sorry but this is just a stupid beat up and I hope people are just as harsh when a labor minister gets done for something as trivial as this. If this is what we are descending too I’ll no longer take any interest and happily live out the rest of my days not giving a flying who is in power or what they do. I’ll be fine

  18. Joe6pack,

    I agree that his offence was trivial, but the law is the law.

    Moreover, Troy Grant was in the NSW Police for 22 years, possibly may have had to enforce that law, and definitely should have known better. Thin end of the wedge, sure, but we all know that mobile phone activity when in charge of a vehicle can – and unfortunately does – have fatal consequences.

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