Tuesday, February 13, 2007

It's All About The Comma or It's All About, The Comma

Today my friends, I present my favorite news story of the week. As I stared at it, I realized it also holds an important lesson for all of you kids who don’t think punctuation matters.

It comes from California, in the form of a 911 transcript.

I’m sure many of you have been following the story of Walter the Wandering Wallaby. He escaped from his wallaby sitter's home last week and has been surviving the mean streets of Fontana ever since.

Caller: "Yes there is a big kangaroo here on the street."

911: "I'm sorry, I need you to… what's going on there?"

Caller: "A large kangaroo, lady. We are looking at it. He's right here in our street."

911: "What do you mean a kangaroo lady? That doesn't make sense."

Caller: "It's large kangaroo in our street, right there."

Saddly, part of what makes the 911 call so special are the tones of both the caller and the operator. The caller is pissed that she has to keep repeating that it's a kangaroo (perhaps if she'd recognized it as a wallaby it would have been a smoother conversation.) The operator can't figure out what the caller is talking about and, because you can't see a spoken comma floating out there, can't figure out what a kangaroo lady is.

It reminds me of a written example of why commas are so important. As I recall, this came from one of the strong female teachers in my life:

A woman without her man is nothing. (that's the wrong, comma free version)

A woman, without her, man is nothing.

See the difference?

It is important, because I’m sure police respond much differently when the call is for a wild kangaroo lady.

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