COURT REPORTERS – DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THE LEGAL COMMA?
Original was posted by Brown & Jones Court Reporting Blog. View Here
Though we may not see the final comma in various print media, we need to make it a practice to use it. In reporting, it is important to clearly distinguish between the possibility that the last two members of a series are distinct things (and therefore need to be separated) or that they form a unit (and therefore should not be separated). Thus, we want to always use the comma before the conjunction when the two elements are separate and distinct so that not using the comma ties the two elements together.
Ham, tuna, egg salad, and turkey ….. where there are four choices.
Ham, tuna, peanut butter and jelly….where there are three choices.
The use of this comma in court reporting has a basis in law. A case in New Jersey many years ago found a man arguing that he could not be found to be serving liquor to a minor because he did not own any of the establishments mentioned in the law. The law read along the lines of “…liquor cannot be served to a minor in a cafeteria, a diner, a lounge, a restaurant…” and ended with the words “bar and grill” without the comma.
The man argued that he owned a bar and that bar was not on the list, that only bar and grill was on the list. He won. The law was actually sent back to the legislature for the insertion of the comma. A similar case involved “parks and recreation” and was similarly decided. For this reason, this comma is often called the “legal” comma.
..….cafeteria, bar, and grill… where there are three separate elements.
……cafeteria, bar and grill…. Where there are only two elements.
If we always use the comma with the final conjunction when the items are separate, it will be clear that no comma means the two items form a unit.