Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews.

Author Interviews

8/4 Sherry Harris, A Time to Swill

8/11 Authors of The Fish That Got Away

8/18 Authors of Mutt Murders, To Fetch A Killer

8/25 Alyssa Maxwell, Murder at Wakehurst

Guest Bloggers

8/21 Nancy Nau Sullivan

WWK Special Blogger

8/7 V. M. Burns


Tuesday, August 11, 2020

What Did We Mean by That? by KM Rockwood

“One morning, I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know.” Groucho Marx was clever at turning ambiguities in the English language into jokes.

The humor comes from his interpretation of the sentence in an unexpected, but certainly grammatically supported, manner.

Sometimes the meanings of such sentences are not quite so clear.

The lamb is ready to eat.  Does this mean we should sit down to dinner? Or prepare a feeding bottle for  a pet lamb?

Accompanying interns can be tedious. Are the interns who came with us tedious, or is it the act of accompanying them that we find less than fascinating?

The mugger approached the man with a gun. Is the man in danger? Or is the mugger in for a surprise?

Making your meaning clear sometimes takes a bit of introspection and some editing.
Some people who got parking tickets
contested them in court.
The tickets were dismissed,
but a period was added to the sign.

Small variations in punctuation can make a difference, too.

There’s a world of difference between “When do we eat, Grandma?” and “When do we eat Grandma?”

A court case in Maine in 2017 rested on the absence of an Oxford comma in the state’s labor laws.

According to an account on CNN by Lindsay Benson on February 9, 2018, delivery drivers sued Oakhurst Dairy for overtime pay. The law in question exempts certain workers from overtime pay, including “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of" certain agricultural and food products.
Sounds encouraging,
but it's more likely that someone
left the "d" off the "fine."

With no comma after the word “shipment,” this leaves open the question of whether the law covers those involved in the distribution itself, or only in packing for distribution.

The court decided that the absence of the comma meant that those who distributed—the truck drivers—were exempt from the provision that limited overtime compensation, and they were awarded over five million dollars.

The law has since been amended, with semicolons replacing the commas, and, yes, one has been placed after the word “shipment.”

English is a living language, changing all the time. But let's make sure our meaning is clear!

Don't children with diabetes have enough to worry about
without people fighting them at a Christmas event?

Raising children is time-consuming and expensive.
Not many people will want to exceed 20.
Or is that a speed limit?


Annette said...

I love these unclear or grammatically incorrect signs! Thanks for the smile this morning, KM!

Judy Penz Sheluk said...


Margaret S. Hamilton said...

My favorite, with church signboards a close second. thanks, Kathleen!

Debra H. Goldstein said...

Clever... and a good way to start this morning.

KM Rockwood said...

Good morning, everybody!

Sometimes I hear something or see a sign that just makes my day.

Kait said...

So much fun! I've always wondered about the Slow children playing signs. Does that mean they aren't quick enough to get out of the way of vehicles? There are signs throughout Maine that read Break for Moose it could save your life. Then there was the smart sign over I-95 in Miami-Dade County, Florida that read Cons ahead. I looked for a sign that said Pros behind, but alas, never found one.

E. B. Davis said...

I love it! Thanks for the laughs.

Shari Randall said...

Hilarious! Thanks for the smiles, KM!

Jim Jackson said...

Grammar and punctuation are critical when it comes to the law or children, both of which rely on technical interpretations and do not follow the “you know what I meant” approach.

~ Jim

Jennifer J. Chow said...

Love these signs! Just goes to show the importance of punctuation!

KM Rockwood said...

We do have to be mindful of all children, slow or fast.

Just encountered another fun one. A child who had been permitted to use a family restroom in a store by himself came out and admitted that he'd tried to follow the "Employees must wash hands" directive, but nobody showed up, so he washed his hands himself.