Archive for the 'words and phrases' Category

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

Big language, little language

Languages come in sizes. English is a relatively small language; Spanish is a relatively large language.

Our client for a project several years ago was the Pan American Health Organization, which is part of the World Health Organization, which is part of the United Nations. PAHO wanted us to produce a procedures manual for the warehousing and distribution of medical pharmaceuticals throughout Central America.

Okay, we could do that.

But here was the hook: For some reason, one for which we never got an answer, PAHO required that both the English and the Spanish versions of the manual be exactly the same page length. That’s where a problem arose: Spanish is a bigger language than English, that is, it takes more words, roughly 10 percent more, and thus more space, to express a concept in Spanish than it does in English. Example: This entry is 235 words long in English; in Spanish it’s 256 words.

And our client wanted both versions to have the same total page count. What to do?

We agonized over this dilemma for several days. Finally, the solution came: We printed the Spanish edition in a type size one point smaller than the one we used for the English version, and we slightly reduced the space (leading, or “ledding” in typography parlance) between the lines of type. Result? Both books were easily readable, both were the same length, and everybody was happy.

There’s more than one way to skin el gato. JK