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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Choose Your Words, and Commas, Wisely

Let's look at a few sentences so we can see what happens when grammar and punctuation are abused.

Let's eat Grandma.

I must admit, this is one of my all-time favorites. We assume that you are calling grandma for lunch or dinner here. Like she's in her room, or favorite chair, taking a nap. But that's not what this sentence really states.

In the sentence above, I can only decipher that grandma is dead, and we are going to have her for supper. What? You ask, reading the line again. Yes, I tell you emphatically, that is the true meaning of that sentence.

Perhaps you meant this instead:

Let's eat, Grandma.

Now that sentence gets across the first idea and leaves no room for doubt as to what you were trying to say. That was fun, let's do another.

Your donation just helped someone. Get a job.

Believe it or not, this comes from a sign at a charitable organization. I saw the sign myself. I'd really like to meet the person who wrote and designed this one. Or even the proofer who gave the go ahead to have these signs made up.

Here the sign offers two thoughts, one intended and the other - well, not so much. My donation helped someone. That's good to know. It makes me feel better when I drop off ten pairs of pants that are almost brand new and don't fit any longer (weight loss, not gain, in my case). I can already envision a man, down on his luck, gleefully pulling on a pair of work-causal khakis.

The second part of the statement (after the period), reminds me to go out and get a job. At the very least, it is reminding someone to get a job (I have two, thank you).

I bet they meant for the sign to read like this:

Your donation just helped someone get a job.

At least I hope that's what they meant. The original version is otherwise slightly rude I'm afraid.

One more before we close for the week.

Cam and Mitchell are competent, loving parents, both are lawyers.

Okay, first off if we are speaking of the two characters on Modern Family, they are not both lawyers. Only Mitchell works in law; Cam is a stay at home dad who does some "clowning" on the side. Glad to get that straightened out up front.

Next, I have no idea what the above sentence is trying to tell me. Are they competent men, loving parents, and lawyers? Perhaps they're competent, loving parents first; and lawyers second. Or maybe they are competent lawyers and loving parents. It's all messed up in my mind.

If I was going to rewrite this sentence, this is what I'd most likely do:

Cam and Mitchell are both competent, loving parents, and lawyers.

I might take the word "both" out of the sentence completely. I think it only adds confusion to the statement.

By the way, it's a good thing I didn't mess up the title of this post. It would have been embarrassing to see it in this form:

Choose Your Words and Comas, Wisely

That's just all kind of wrong and on so many different levels.


Have a great week. In the last month, I've reread The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair and Catch-22, by Joseph Heller. If you haven't read either, I highly recommend them for a great read.


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