Or would “Punctuate, People!” be a better way to write it?
It does make a difference.
Someone waxing philosophical might note:
“That that is is that
that is not is not.” It doesn’t make much sense until the punctuation is added.
“That that is, is. That that is not, is not.”
Some examples of
badly-punctuated statements are common knowledge. “Let’s eat Grandma.” vs.
“Let’s eat, Grandma.” Or “Our next project is cut and paste kids.” vs. “Our
next project is cut and paste, kids.”
Lynne Truss produced a
book illustrated with cuddly pandas entitled Eats, Shoots and Leaves
(Harper Collins, 2009) that turns out to be about the importance of commas, not
about the after-feeding activities of murderous pandas.
A surprising number of
misstatements surround food, perhaps because many references are presented not
as a narration, but as truncated menus and signs.
Outdoor seating on the
sidewalk in front of a restaurant: “Tables are for eating customers only.” How
many customers do they lose to being eaten?
At the entrance to a
library: “No smoking food or beverages permitted.” Smoking food takes a while
and produces lots of smoke. It probably would damage the books. Not sure about smoking beverages.
And the ingredients in a
vegetarian salad: Lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, mushrooms, goats, cheese.” The
addition of “goats” would remove it from the vegetarian category.
In the October 2010 issue of Tails magazine:
Ray finds inspiration in cooking her family and her
Probably not the publicity she was seeking.
There’s a difference between a
picture of a man eating chicken, and a man-eating chicken. One is mundane; the
other is scary.
And speculative fiction authors may
have to be concerned that “Most of the time travelers worry about their
luggage,” while in the present day, “Most of the time, travelers worry about
“I’m sorry I love you.” has an entirely
different message than an apology of “I’m sorry. I love you.”
Would you rather get twenty
five-dollar bills for a total of one hundred dollars, or twenty-five dollar
bills for twenty-five dollars?
A newly-ordained minister might
piously express gratitude by saying, “I would not be here without those who
started me on this path and supported my efforts. Thank you to my parents, Mrs.
Wilson and God.” Although if Mrs. Wilson and God are the parents, perhaps the
career selection was a family heritage. Or perhaps should it have read, “Thank
you to my parents, Mrs. Wilson, and God.”
Can you think of a time when
punctuation changed the meaning of a passage?