Armed with the rules of grammar and punctuation

9 August 2006

Sometimes you find the bestest[1] things on the interweb.

You know when you correct[2] your younger siblings’ pronunciation or spelling or accent[3] And they moan about how “sure you knew what I totally meant like dude”[4] Well now you can feel totally justified, and you can go further and correct their punctuation. After all, one day it might save them thousands of euros/dollars/pounds/rands[5] Don’t belive me? Well, I was reading Neil Gaiman’s blog when[6] I spotted the story. Seems some Canadian company(Rogers) drew up a contract with another company(Aliant). A multi-millian dollar contract. Only they added an extra comma which meant that a crucial line didn’t mean what they thought it would mean:

[the agreement] shall continue in force for a period of five years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.

Rogers thought that meant that the agreement would last five years, and only after that could it be terminated by the one year notice. But that isn’t what the sentence means. If I remember my rules of punctuation, two commas like that create a subordinate clause, which can be removed to read the main point of the sentence. So it’d read:
“[the agreement] shall continue in force for a period of five years from the date it is made unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.” or basically that only one years notice is required to terminate the agreement, at any time.

Doesn’t that just make you smile, and wonder will all contracts now have to suffer the scrutiny of the punctuation police as well as the legal teams?

I’ve been memed, again. This time by Nome, and it is a music meme. Post your top ten[7] artists, the first song you heard by them, the one that made you fall in love with them, and your current favorite.

  1. Ben Christophers[8]Beautiful Demon which I got free with an issue of Uncut magazine. Back when I used to buy it. And I think that is still my favourite of his songs.
  2. Declan O’Rourke – Sara (last night in a dream) which NM sent me. My fav by him now is probably Marrying the Sea
  3. Dead Can Dance – I can’t remember what the first song I loved by them was. And I don’t know if I have a favourite either.
  4. Sinead O’Connor – I don’t really like her personality, or at least the way she comes across in the media. But she has a fantastic voice. The first song by her that I can remember hearing and loving was, of course, Nothing Compare 2 You. That is still a great song, wonderful video too. But my favourite at the moment is her version of Oro Se Do Bheatha Bhaile
  5. Martha Wainwright – Again, I’m not sure what my first fav was. And there are quite a few of hers that I love; Bring Back My Heart with Rufus Wainwright, Dis, quand reviendras-tu?, Wither Must I Wander, These Flowers and I’ll stop now otherwise I’ll end up listing all the tracks.


  1. yes indeedy, the very bestest
  2. tease, insult, whatever, its all good
  3. maybe you just frown at them, or raise your eyes to heaven. I like to be pro-active
  4. this is not an actual exmple, because de brudders talk can be so cat like, that nown’d undershtand it dj’know
  5. delete or insert currency as apropriate
  6. isn’t the cover to Fragile Things lovely?
  7. I’m only doing five mind
  8. oh yeah, these are listed in no particular order

You may also like...

11 Responses

  1. NineMoons says:

    Fucking contract law. Jesus. Give me a decent criminal case any day o' the week.

    Speaking of commas…(and ellipses…), we were sent this last year from on-high – it's edited for obvious reasons:

    "In view of the fact this may be the last year that such a scheme will operate, given the inevitable scaling-down of the [company's] work next year and, therefore, its personnel, we decided, as you know, to make a large part of the money available for a Christmas lunch for admin staff, on [insert date]"

    Yes – 7 commas in a 50 ish word sentence. And the person who sent it isn't even a lawyer!

    I think I'll do your music meme. I'm working on having posts outnumber comments on my site this month…

  2. Fence says:

    But if you already knew "as you know" why are they telling you? Hmmm?

  3. NineMoons says:

    Because they know we don't know, because most of us haven't worked there long enough to know what they like to pretend we know. You know?

  4. Fence says:

    Was it :shocked look, creeping horror: a lie?

  5. anne says:

    Punctuation is taken seriously. (full stop to emphasise the coming clause) At long last.

  6. Talena says:

    Hi, Fence.

    Why only five?

  7. Ann says:

    I think smart lawyers already do scrutinize every comma. I make people want to jam a pen in my eye by bringing up the point of the serial comma. It seems to have fallen into disuse in general writing (particularly of the marketing variety), but it really can change the whole meaning of a sentence. For example: "I leave all my fatty-fatty cash-cash to Shane, Patrick and Peter." means something different than "I leave all my fatty-fatty-cash-cash to Shane, Patrick, and Peter." (I'll give the comma-impaired a hint – Shane's going to like the first one a whole lot better.)

    I'd have written "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves" if yerwan hadn't beaten me to it.

  8. Fence says:

    Indeed Anne. And about time too. Damn, not supposed to start a sentence with an and, am I?

    No real reason Talena, it's just I have a hard time mentioning one over another and these 5 popped into my head fairly quickly.

    Ann, it also depends, I've heard, on what side of the Atlantic you are on. And considering that modern usage doesn't really see any difference between your examples I think lawyers had better hirea whole team of Lynn Truss-alikes (I think that is her name)

  9. NineMoons says:

    I don't think we ever use the comma before an and. I think we're taught not to. Hmmmm. Same as we use "will" where the English use "shall". Rules change in the Reaches.

    And yep, yer wan is Lynne Truss. I own the book. If you're not screaming "yes! That's so true" within the first three pages, it's not for you. :-) Some versions come with stick-on commas etc. for correcting signs…

    Ann, didja ever read Terry Pratchett's Going Postal? There's a character in it who's a greengrocer and he speaks with liberal use of the greengrocer's apostrophe: S'orry? S'erve's me right. I wa's s'o (etc. etc.) Excellent.

  10. Fence says:

    Well we're never taught grammar or punctuation at all, are we?

    Though I do tend to use the comma before an and. Sometimes I don't. But in a majority of cases I do. Tom, Dick, and Harry. Maybe because I was told at drama that a comma was half a pause, or maybe a quarter can't remember now, and when speaking I'd pause slightly before the and, so it makes sense for me to stick in the comma.

    Than again, maybe I'm talking bollocks :)

  11. NineMoons says:


    Yep, bollocks.