Question of the Week
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In this month’s Bryan Garner on Words column, lawyer-lexicographer Bryan A. Garner explains the importance of punctuation and offers a quiz.
“Attentiveness to punctuation is a matter of temperament, I’ve come to believe,” Garner writes. Some people get thrilled about punctuation, while others “see a reference to placement of periods and commas in relation to end-quotes and immediately stop reading.”
Indeed, punctuation mistakes have had their fair share of legal trouble throughout history. In 1872, while Ulysses S. Grant was president, the federal government passed a new tariff act, and a small punctuation error in the law wound up costing the government more than $40 million in current dollars.
And in 2017 and 2018, the Oxford comma was a source of legal woes for a Maine dairy company, which settled a delivery drivers dispute for $5 million. A federal 1st Circuit panel found ambiguity in the state law’s lack of a serial comma.
This week, we’d like to ask: What punctuation errors have you come across in your legal career? Extra or missing commas, missing periods, or maybe a misplaced apostrophe? Did you point out the errors, and were there legal ramifications?
Check out last week’s question: Do you enjoy lawyer jokes? What do you like or not like about them?
Posted by April Asbell on Facebook:
“Regardless of your profession, you have to be able to laugh at yourself in the incredibly crazy things we see every day. As a public defender, I laugh every time I hear someone say that they want a ‘real lawyer.’”
Do you have an idea for a future Question of the Week? If so, contact us.