Archive for December, 2007

Commas count

Something as small and seemingly insignificant as a comma assumes overwhelming constitutional importance when it takes center stage in legal arguments. Take, for example, the placement of three commas (or were there originally four? or two?) in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; that’s the one that deals with the hot button issue of gun control. Here’s the sentence: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Adam Freedman, in a New York Times op ed piece titled Clause and Effect, says proponents of the pro-gun lobby hold that the second comma divides the statement into “prefatory” and “operative” clauses and that the wording is all about granting individuals the right to own guns. Those who advocate limited gun ownership see it differently, that “the amendment is really about protecting militias,” not rights of individuals. Read the arguments.

This is the kind of stuff that keeps lawyers in business and grammarians scratching their heads.

At the next party you attend, ask your friends how they would punctuate this sentence:

Woman without her man is nothing.

Should it read . . .

Woman, without her, man is nothing.

. . . or . . .

Woman, without her man, is nothing. JK

109,263 reasons why kids can’t do arithmetic

The San Jose Mercury News reports that the Texas Board of Education in November was concerned to find that elementary math textbooks the state selected for use in its schools next year contain 109, 263 errors. Seventy-nine percent–86,000!–of those errors occurred in books produced by Houghton Mifflin, one of the country’s leading manufacturers of educational materials. Bob Craig, R-Lubbock, drew laughter from his fellow board members when he asked, “How can you make 86,000 errors in your textbooks? How do you do that?”

The publishers vowed to correct the mistakes by spring–well before school begins next fall. They’d better. The state has warned them they’ll impose fines of as much as $5,000 apiece for errors that make it through to finished books. JK