Author: Joe Jansen, Proofreader
“Hey, Uncle Pal Joey,” you say, “there are quite a few commas in this sentence, my verbose, well-meaning and, more often than not, jocular friend. What’s up with that?”
Glad you asked. I was going to write a short sentence to start, but I found a few commas in the trash can and didn’t want to waste them. One might be from Ohio, actually.
You laugh (with a question mark over your head), but a missing comma in an Ohio town’s parking law actually saved a savvy woman some cash earlier this month. She received a ticket in violation of a statute that applied to “any motor vehicle camper, trailer, farm implement and/or non-motorized vehicle.”
She argued – and ultimately was victorious in court – that her humble pickup truck didn’t fit any of those four categories by the letter of the law. A vehicle, yes, but the law doesn’t say that. It says “motor vehicle camper.” Of course, there was supposed to be a comma to distinguish “motor vehicle” from “camper.”
The story made headlines all over; here’s one from a decidedly “touchdown, punctuation geeks!” angle.
So respect the comma (heck, any punctuation). Respect those mundane requests to add one. You never know. Some cash might be saved, whether for the agency or for your bank account.
Possible next lesson: the consequences of a poorly placed apostrophe. If you don’t think “Dads” vs. “Dad’s” could go way wrong in an ad, well…you’ll have to ask next time we run into each other. Decorum, y’all.
- Larimar, Sarah. “Ohio Appeals Court Ruling Is a Victory for Punctuation, Sanity.” The Washington Post, July 1, 2015.