07 April, 2011

Punctuation is Key, People

[Ed.: I wasn't aware when I wrote this, but this cover's actually photoshopped.  Doesn't change the basic message, which is that a bit o' punctuation in wrong place can completely change the meaning of a sentence.  Due credit to the mag editors who got the right comma in the right place at the right time.  Thank you, Lockwood, for reminding me of the importance of skepticism!]

Andrew Sullivan found this gem of unfortunate punctuation on a magazine cover (h/t):

I hope this does not explain her popularity.
Unless America changed while I was sleeping, I believe it's still in poor taste to serve cannibal-and-canine feasts in this country.

This is a shining example demonstrating why punctuation is important, and why this anecdote about Oscar Wilde rings true:
Oscar Wilde came down to lunch,. His guests wanted to know how he had spent his morning. "I was hard at work," he said.

"Oh?" someone asked. "Did you accomplish much?"

"Yes, indeed," said Wilde. "I inserted a comma."

He vanished after lunch and didn't return until dinner. They asked how he'd spent his afternoon. "More work," he said.

"Inserted another comma?" someone asked sarcastically.

"No," said Wilde, unfazed. "I removed the one I inserted this morning."

Filched that from Isaac Asimov, I did.  Can't remember which book on writing it's from, but it's stayed with me for years.  Commas matter.

So does the rest of the punctuation pantheon.  Put a period in the wrong place, and you completely screw up a sentence.  Bung quotation marks around the wrong words, and you've just put words in someone's mouth that don't belong there.  I could go on and on, but what I'll do instead is direct you to one of the most delightful reads on punctuation ever written: Lynn Truss's Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.  Read it.  Learn it.  Live it.

Or else the dog and the family are what's for dinner.


KLR said...

A couple of years ago Slasdot ran a story about new developments in robotic coloscopy; part of the description was truncated to ">Scientists in Italy have developed which will move around the lower digestive tract using legs." Comedy ensued in the comments:

What's so hard to understand?

We have developed which will accidentally your colon

Pity the poor editors, but the front page of the magazine?

Ron Schott said...

I seem to be missing the point (humor?) of this sentence: "Oscar Wilde came down to lunch,."

I also have to admit I'm a little curious what Rachel Ray could whip up with the family dog... :p

Lockwood said...

I posted this in the funnies a week and half ago, and it had been revealed at that point that the image had been altered.
The original cover can be seen here, with commas in all the right places:

Cujo359 said...

Great. So now there's another thing that people think they know, but don't, like Al Gore's claim to have invented the Internet, etc.

Love the cover of that book on punctuation.