[Ads-l] Let's eat grandpa: why punctuation isn't a matter of life and

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at NETSCAPE.COM
Fri Mar 17 16:02:58 EDT 2017

Lynne Truss _Eats Shoots & Leaves_ (US hardback edition) New York: Gotham Books, 2004, ISBN 1-592-40087-6
has two examples of punctuation that had fatal results:

pp 99ff is about Roger Casement who, according to legend, was "hanged on a comma".  The statute in question read "if a man be adherent to the king's enemies in the realm giving to them aid and comfort in the realm or elsewhere" without a comma and "Casement's defence argued that, since Casement had not been adherent to the kaing's enemies 'in the realm' (Indeed, on the contrary, had scrupulously conducted all his treasonous plotting abroad), he was not guilty."

pp10ff the Jameson on the Transvaal: "when the settlers sent their telegraphic invitation to Jameson, it included a tragic ambiguity:  '...we feel cosntrained to call upon you to come to our aid should a disturbance arise here...we cannot but believe that you and the men under you will not fail to come to the rescue...'
     "...if you place a full stop after the word 'aid' in this passage, the message is unequivocal.  It says, 'Come at once!'  If you put it after 'here', however, it says something more like 'We might need you at some later date depending...'"

- Jim Landau

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The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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