Sloppy punctuation may cost you

Punctuation Michael Collins Memoirs and writing

Everything is fast these days. Fast downloads, rapid exchanges of text—delivered at lightning speed—and messages written and read on the run.

All that convenience, or pain in the arse in-your-faceness—depending on how you look at life—comes with a hidden cost.
Punctuation Michael Collins Memoirs and writingWe are simply not communicating properly. Words are abbreviated or misspelled, punctuation is generally ignored (except for the ubiquitous exclamation mark, which has gone from the rarely used and effective to anything up to fifteen of them slammed at the end of one sentence), and messages have unintended multiple meanings.

Perhaps we don’t have to be perfect. Or do we? In one recent case involving a legal document, one misplaced comma in a contract cost Rogers Communications Inc., a Canadian Company, C$2.13 million dollars. That one comma allowed Aliant Inc., a cable laying company, to terminate a contract with one year’s notice, rather than the five years Rogers Communication thought they’d signed up for.

We may not be negotiating million dollar deals every day before lunch, but we do need to be clear, and punctuation helps. Let’s look at the following:

We invited the strippers, Mum, and Dad.


We invited the strippers, Mum and Dad.

(Interesting parents whichever way you read it.)

How about:

Let’s eat, Grandma.


Let’s eat Grandma.



A woman, without her man, is nothing.

A woman: without her, man is nothing.

One of the best ways to test your punctuation is to read your words out loud. In this era of flashing, whizz-bang everything, how you communicate is more important than ever. Punctuation isn’t there to torment us. It’s there to add clarity to what we want to say. Just take two more seconds to reread what you’ve written before pressing the button.

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