Let's eat Grandpa - and other poorly punctuated sentences
Monday was Punctuation Day, so a perfect time for me to go on and on about my favourite thing – grammar!
I don’t know anyone who actually wants to eat their grandpa. But…I do know people who want to eat WITH their grandpa.
Just a simple comma error can totally change the meaning of a sentence:
Let’s eat grandpa – implies you want to eat your old pops
Let’s eat, grandpa - implies that you’ll enjoy a meal together
And don’t get me started on the Oxford Comma! It’s the one that goes after ‘and’ – and people say all the time: “you can’t put a comma after and.”
Well yes you can, and you should, unless you want some real ambiguity in your written word!
Here are some examples where your Oxford Comma saves the day:
You’re giving an acceptance speech for something marvellous and you write: “I’d like to thank my parents, Tiffany and my nan.”
Weird – you’ve just said your parents are your Tiffany and your nan!
But, if you’d plopped that lovely and super useful Oxford Comma in there right after Tiffany, it would all be much more clearer, accurate and considerably less weird!
“I’d like to thank my parents, Tiffany, and my nan.” – you just thanked three lots of people; parents / Tiffany/ nan! Much more acceptable.
Other examples include:
“I love my parents, Katy Perry and Santa Claus” – Santa Claus and Katy Perry are your parents?! Wow!
But… if little Miss Oxford comma has been invited to the sentence, we’d know that you love both Katy and Santa along with your parents and there would be no mix-up with your family tree:
“I love my parents, Katy Perry, and Santa Claus” – see, you know it makes sense now!
Got to love this next one that I found ladies!
“A woman, without her man is nothing” – not true…we’re fine, just fine as independent strong women!
Bung the right punctuation in there and it’s a totally different story:
“A woman, without her, man is nothing” – also not fully true but we’re now saying it’s the men who can’t cope.
By leaving out the Oxford Comma you also leave people hanging…
“When I was at the beach I went swimming, fishing and for a walk.” – Yes, and where did you walk to? It’s not finished because we’re waiting to know where you went for a walk.
Pop that Oxford Comma in and it’s all OK again – we realise that you went swimming and fishing at the beach:
“When I was at the beach I went swimming, fishing, and for a walk.”
The lack of an Oxford Comma has also brought about a court case in America. Some dairy guys, upset with working more than 40 hours but not getting overtime, called in the grammar police and found a missing Oxford Comma could be their goldrush.
The contract said they wouldn’t get overtime if their job involved:
“the canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of” perishable foods.
It looks to me that no-one gets overtime apart from the bosses then, but let’s take a look.
It lists ‘packing for shipment or distribution of perishable foods’ as a job, but their job was ‘distribution’ on its own, so bingo, their job’s not listed and they win the court case.
If the dairy bosses wanted them to be included, our friend the Oxford Comma should have been in there after ‘shipment’.
“the canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment, or distribution of” perishable foods.
It then says ‘distribution’ is a separate job.
This one says more about lack of leadership and low morale than it does wanting to be the grammar police but that’s a different story!
And so there you are – get your punctuation incorrect and you could be eating your grandparents, lying about your ancestry, leaving us hanging and facing legal action.