Super bloopers

Super bloopers


Super bloopers

Being an ardent English teacher, I can vouch for the importance and relevance of each and every punctuation mark and letter in the English language.

Indeed, an omitted punctuation mark or letter can inadvertently alter the meaning of the sentence, sometimes with life-altering drastic results! Don’t believe me? Read this article to see how.

Once there was a PhD professor who gave a talk to an audience consisting of both men and women. She gave the following sentence and told them to punctuate it, as they deemed fit, “Woman without her man is nothing.”

They thought pensively for some time, and then almost all the men punctuated the sentence as, “Woman, without her man, is nothing,” while most of the women punctuated the same sentence as, “Woman!

Without her, man is nothing!” What this simple exercise went to prove is that punctuation marks can alter the meaning of the sentence to such an extent that the same words are rendered diametrically opposite in meaning due to the different punctuation marks used in the two sentences.

Ironically, even the omission of a single punctuation mark can make a world of a difference. In the days of yore, when there was no e-mail or mobile phones, emergency messages which had to be conveyed immediately had to be sent by telegrams. Now telegrams (for those of you who are familiar with them) were notorious for being grammatically obnoxious and were full of misspelled words.

In this scenario, there was a proud mother who wanted to congratulate her recently married daughter on her success in clearing her B Ed examination in flying colours. So, she sent her daughter a telegram. Imagine her daughter’s sense of ire, chagrin and eventual mirth when she opened the telegram and read, “Congratulations for your success in Bed!” The Morse code technician had forgotten to put a full stop after ‘B’!

Another punctuation mark, which can be highly controversial, is the comma. Before I did an intensive grammar course, I either used to put commas where they were not required or omit them where they were needed. A dangerous proposition, as commas not used properly can alter the meaning of the sentence, sometimes drastically, as the following example shows.

It took place at my first job in a medical transcription company where one of the trainees was supposed to transcribe the medical report as, “The patient denies vomiting, diarrhoea.” Quite inadvertently, he left out the comma after ‘vomiting’, with the result that the sentence read as, “The patient denies vomiting diarrhoea!” Ugh! Too crass and gross for words.

Sometimes, apart from a single punctuation mark omitted, a letter omitted in a word can also cause a world of difference. In the following example, a husband almost ended his marriage because of an omitted letter in an SMS message. He had gone for a weekend business trip when he wanted to send an SMS message to his loving wife as he was missing her. He took his mobile phone and hurriedly typed a message which read thus, “Wish you were her!”