Hey, while we’re on the subject of persnickety language (see the previous post), here’s another good one from the Language Log. The topic is that mischievous creature, the so-called Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma. Which comma is that? It’s the second comma in this phrase: Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe. Should it be there, or should it instead be pitched into a dark hole never to be seen again? Without getting into the question of whether or not God smiles on the serial comma (She does), watch what can happen when the spawn of Oxford goes missing.
The first example is this possibly invented but nevertheless funny inscription: “This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.” This is clearly wrong, if only because there can be no distinction between the two.
More verifiable is this beauty from an article about Merle Haggard: “Among those interviewed were his two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall.”
Now that’s what I call fun with punctuation!
It got me thinking about the most mischief that can be caused by the least ink. Just how much can you subvert a serious phrase with a misplaced jot? Here’s my favorite. With the help of a wandering apostrophe, Operation Just Cause, the U.S. invasion of Panama that removed Manuel Noriega from power, becomes Operation Just ‘Cause. Can you do better?