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Sic Semper Tyrannis

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Punctuation Counts

Here’s the title of a recent post by Fighting Bob’s Ed Garvey:

Words fail me not Barack
That’s an exact duplication. Notice anything missing? Yes! Punctuation!

This isn't uncommon over at Fighting Bob, but as I'm about to point out, it's something they should probably address. Just consider several possible interpretations of that sentence:

Words: fail me not, Barack!
Words fail me; not Barack.
Words fail me not, Barack.
Words fail. Me not Barack.
Note that the second example has two possible meanings: it might be words failing either "me" or Barack; or "I" might be being failed by either words or Barack. You just can't tell. There's also the Mongo-like grammar of the fourth example, which only adds to the problems I've highlighted here.

Let this be a lesson to all of us.