Punctuation: it's black and white

My black and white dog Rosie

It’s something of an occupational hazard. Family and friends love to buy me books like Epic Grammar Fails and The Best of Apostrophe Man for Christmas and birthdays. I also used to get a lot of cat-themed gifts, and, since the addition of the dogs to my fur-family, my friends have gleefully expanded their gift-giving repertoire.

Now I often like the dog and cat-themed presents, even if I only have so much space in my garden for displaying cat-shaped ornaments. However, to an editor, books about grammar are all a bit of a busman’s holiday. And while the examples are often LOL funny, I can’t help but view them with a slight twinge of guilt. I am laughing at someone else’s expense.

However, I recently came across a ‘grammar’ story with a feel-good vibe. A story where the loser was petty bureaucracy and the underdog triumphed.

A woman in Ohio awoke one morning to find her ute (or pick-up truck as she would call it), had been towed away from the front of her house. Unbeknownst to her, she had violated a local village ordinance that stated that is was illegal to park “any motor vehicle camper, trailer, farm implement and/or non-motorized vehicle” on a street for more than 24 hours.

Note there is no comma between ‘motor vehicle’ and ‘camper’. A ute is not a ‘motor vehicle camper’.  She took the case to court.

While she lost the initial case, the lower court’s decision was overturned on appeal. The three judges of the Twelfth Appellate District Court of Ohio were unanimous in their decision: it was a simple, black and white, case, “items in a series are separated by commas.”

For the want of a comma, her case was won. 

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