Commas Rule, This July Fourth!

Do commas matter? According to an Ohio Court of Appeals, they do.

As we U.S. Americans celebrate the birth of our democracy today, it’s fitting to celebrate recent court victories on behalf of the common man (and woman)—and common sense. I’m not talking about the Supreme Court ruling in support of same-sex marriage equality, though I celebrate that, as well. I’m talking about the Ohio 12th District Court of Appeals ruling which overturned a West Jefferson, Ohio woman’s ticket-and-tow citation when she left her pickup truck parked on the street overnight.

The reason her truck was towed? A village ordinance makes it illegal to park “any motor vehicle camper, trailer, farm implement and/or non-motorized vehicle” on a street for more than 24 hours.

The woman argued that her truck was not a “motor vehicle camper,” and should not have been towed. The trial court ruled that the ordinance meant to say, “motor vehicle, camper, trailer, etc.” and that the missing comma was just a typo.

No way, said the Court of Appeals. If your meaning requires a comma, you need to put the comma in. We’re not responsible for your careless writing. Yay! Let’s hear it for clear writing, I say!

You can read the whole story in the Washington Post, which seems to have rereported it from the Columbus Dispatch.

Now, if I could just collect a fine every time I caught the Boston Globe mangling grammar, spelling, or punctuation (as opposed to “grammar spelling, or punctuation”). It would probably cover the cost of my subscription.

A special tip of the hat today to copy editors everywhere!

 

0 Responses

  1. MaryA
    | Reply

    "Let's hear it for clear writing, I say!" –Jeff

    Yep — and the Court of Appeals was clearly for the comma. It is a small thing, the comma, but sometimes it makes a difference, legally speaking.

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