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Grammar Sticklers Police Workplace; Lawyer Battles Colleagues over the Oxford Comma

Posted Jun 25, 2012 6:00 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Good grammar and proper spelling can go by the wayside when texting and tweeting, a trend that is extending into the workplace.

Bryan Garner is among the managers trying to do something about it, the Wall Street Journal reports. The editor of Black’s Law Dictionary has also co-written a new book with Justice Antonin Scalia on textualism. He is a stickler for good grammar in writing and at his company, LawProse.

New employees at Garner’s firm aren’t hired unless they can pass spelling and grammar tests. The requirement applies even to people who just want to pack boxes, the story says. Important letters and emails aren’t sent out until they are copyedited by at least two people.

The story includes other examples of corporate crackdowns on grammar gaffes, including one manager who fined employees 25 cents for using the word “like” in their sentences. Sometimes there is disagreement, however, over the rules.

The story cites a battle over the Oxford comma waged by Tom Kamenick at his public-interest law firm in Milwaukee. He supports the extra comma before the “and” or “or” in a series. Kamenick says leaving out the comma can change the meaning of a sentence and offers this example: "The greatest influences in my life are my sisters, Oprah Winfrey and Madonna.” If the speaker isn’t related to Winfrey and Madonna, a comma needs to be placed after “Winfrey.” Kamenick tells the Wall Street Journal his colleagues backed down "for the sake of their own sanity and workplace decorum” after he made clear he was willing to go to war on the issue.

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