Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

What a difference a comma makes

Posted by metaphorical on 17 January 2008

My favorite example of punctuation placement is a sentence that, as far as I know, was invented by Mitch Wagner to prove the need for the serial comma: “This novel is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”

Another favorite example is a sign I used to see in Iowa City when I was a grad student there.

NO PARKING VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED

“Look,” I used to tell my Intro to Logic students. “Not only will parking violators not be prosecuted, but they’re nice enough to post a sign saying so.”

I thought of each of these yesterday when I read “Interest Fades in the Once-Mighty V-8,” by Bill Vlasic, in the NY Times.

Ford executives said they had at times wrestled with the decision to give up V-8s in some models, including a new sedan from the Lincoln luxury division, because they worried about customer reaction.

“I worked on the Lincoln Continental program 20 years ago, and people were vehement that it had to have a V-8,” said Mark Fields, Ford’s president for the Americas. “But now people don’t really care if the performance is there.”

Whoa, that’s a full 180 degree u-turn of ambiguity.

Which is it, Bill? People don’t care about the performance anymore? Or that’s all they care about?

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3 Responses to “What a difference a comma makes”

  1. Vicki said

    OK, I had to read that about four times before I caught the ambiguity.

    You’re GOOD.

  2. digglahhh said

    That’s why the new Fords will tilt to a 45 degree angle when stood up.

    Okay, that was probably the worst joke I’ve ever made here. But I did think, from the headline of the link, that I might be about to read an article about the waning popularity of tomato juice.

  3. I’d love to claim credit for that sentence, but it isn’t mine. As far as I can recall, it’s a real-life book dedication, and Teresa Nielsen Hayden brought it to my attention.

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