The Case of the Missing Comma

commaMy daughter’s birthday is coming up and I think I’ve found the perfect gift. I’m giving her a comma.

I hope she’ll be able to use it. She sure could have used one several weeks ago when, in the heat of excitement, she posted the following on Facebook: “It’s time for the final baby! Yeah!”

Now, if you use Facebook, I’m sure you are quite used to somewhat cryptic messages being posted on a regular basis and, as is usually the case when that occurs, the flurry of comments that pop up onto the feed.

There was a lot of discussion about whether or not they should be congratulating her on another pregnancy and it was so heartwarming to see her friends and family wanting to share in her joy.

However, she is not currently expecting a baby. Her post had absolutely nothing to do with having a baby. She was celebrating the recent semi-final win of the U.S.A. Women’s World Cup Team.

Most of this miscommunication could have been saved by adding one tiny little mark between “final” and “baby.” I say most because the post was still fairly cryptic, but hey, that’s the fun of Facebook.

Listen people, commas are important! Not only can they prevent Facebook feed blow-ups, but a good knowledge of comma usage can even occasionally help you gain the upper hand over the government.

I’m not kidding. In the village of West Jefferson, Ohio, one of my newest heroes, Andrea Cammelleri, saved herself a parking violation by simply reading a law as written. According to court documents the ordinance read as follows:

“It shall be unlawful for any person * * * to park * * * upon any street * * * in the Village, any motor vehicle camper, trailer, farm implement and/or non-motorized vehicle for a continued period of twenty-four hours * * *. “

She was initially convicted of the offense but won on appeal by claiming that she did not own a “motor vehicle camper.” She said she owns a motor vehicle and since motor vehicle is not on the list, she was legally allowed to park in the manner she parked that day.

To further back up her claim, she did an internet search on “motor vehicle camper” which returned websites full of recreational vehicles.

The government intended for the ordinance to list “motor vehicle” and “camper” as two separate items and they claimed that “anybody reading [the ordinance] would understand that it is just missing a comma.” But the appeals court said, hey, grammar matters, so officials were ordered to rewrite the law and add the comma if they wanted it to be read that way.

It’s clear that these 2 examples demonstrate the importance of omitting one cute and curly comma. However, we also need to discuss another, more controversial, example of comma omission which is the road signage that says, “Slow children at play.”

Some people think it should say, “Slow, children at play.” Those people are wrong.

This signage is correct as written. Of course drivers are being warned about the slow children. After all, the fast children can get the hell out of the way.

I hope everyone now understands the value of commas. I highly recommend that you keep one on hand at all times. If you need one in an emergency, just call my daughter because soon she’ll have access to an unlimited supply from Commas “R” Us.

Finally, if this column annoys you, then all I can say is you need to remember the wise words of Socrates who said, “The unexamined sentence is not worth writing.”

Originally published here.

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