Fun with punctuation


From Dweebist. (Thanks, Christina!)


  1. Haha, reminds me of another joke that I found written on a napkin in a bar:

    The importance of capitalization is the difference between “I helped my Uncle Jack off a horse.” and “I helped my uncle jack off a horse.”


  2. I love nerdy stuff like this. It reminds me of my favorite billboard for a local hospital which read:

    “Heart attack.
    Heart attack,”

    1. @#2 Anonymous:

      > “Heart attack.
      > or
      > Heart attack,”

      I don’t get it. Please explain why anyone would put this on a billboard.

      1. I think he may have meant, Heart Attack or “Heart, attack.”

        It wouldn’t be on a billboard though. -my best guess

        1. I think maybe it’s meant to read: Heart Attack (period) as in ‘end of story, there is no more’, as opposed to Heart Attack, (comma) there is more to come. It would be an advert for a local hospital I am assuming, impressing that they have a good survival rate for heart attack victims. Or they are advertising that life doesn’t have to end with a heart attack. I don’t know, I am guessing. But it made me wonder, too.

          1. I think you must be right, but it seems to me an elipsis would have made the point more effectively than a comma:
            Heart attack.
            Heart attack…

        2. I think the point is this – with a full stop a heart attack is final, whereas with a comma there is more to come after and a heart attack is a temporary hiccup

      2. Actually
        “Heart attack.” is the end of a sentence
        “Heart attack,” implies there is more to come after

  3. King George walked and talked an hour after his head was cut off.
    King George walked and talked, an hour after, his head was cut off.

    1. Your example of correct punctuation is incorrect: “King George walked and talked, an hour after, his head was cut off.” The comma after “talked” should be a semicolon (always used to separate the two clauses of a compound sentence).

      1. actually you only use a comma and conjunction or semicolon not both atleast in american english i dont know about british english

        1. This is a joke, right? You correcting someone’s punctuation in a comment that omits all the correct and necessary punctuation?

    2. MadRat means:

      King George walked and talked an hour after his head was cut off.
      King George walked and talked; an hour after, his head was cut off.

    3. No that is incorrect! It would be incorrect to type that as one sentence. It should be “King George walked and talked. An hour after, his head was cut off.” It would be grammatically incorrect to say “King George walked and talked, an hour after, his head was cut off.”

    4. King George walked and talked an hour after his head was cut off.
      King George walked and talked, an hour after, his head was cut off.
      MY COMMENT: The second line is a run-on sentence. There must be a semicolon after “talked,” or the line must be made into two sentences. Eighth grade English lesson

    5. That’s wrong. The second sentence contains a comma splice. The first comma should either be a period or a semicolon.

  4. Reminds me of the title of a book I once saw depicting a shotgun-toting Panda.

    “Eats, shoots, and leaves.”

    (Eats shoots and leaves.)

    1. that’s because it’s a book about punctuation, emphasizing the importance of the comma and other grammar marks.

      1. Here’s something else that will shock you: Correct spelling and grammar are also important in communication. They may not “rest on a punctuation” or even agree on tenses, but incorrect spelling and grammar are great ways to create the impression that you are not educated.

    1. My personal favourite: a BBC News headline that read
      “Turkey kills two Kurdish soldiers”
      That’s either one feisty bird or those Kurds are wimps.

  5. In grade school, I remember some film about a king who outlawed punctuation, and a rogue wizard who went around adding them back to things so they made sense again.

    The climax of the film occurs when the king spits out is food, and finds out he has been quoted as saying “I LIKE RAVIOLI HONEY PIE”, when in fact he was saying “I LIKE RAVIOLI, HONEY PIE” to the queen.

  6. Somone has to say it:

    A panda walks into a bar and orders lunch. After he eats it, he takes out a gun and shoots the bartender. When they arrested him, they asked him why.

    He silently opened a wildlife book and pointed to a sentence on pandas. “Eats, shoots and leaves.”

    1. Actually, “uncle” can be capitalized when talking about and uncle who is always referred to as “Uncle Jack.” “Uncle” then becomes part of his name.

    2. If you are using “Uncle Jack” as a name (Good morning, Uncle Jack.) — The same way you’d say “Good morning, Frank” or “I went with Peter and Alice”) then use the capitals.
      If you are referring to him like this: “I went with my uncle, Jack, and two of my cousins” then it’s a generic noun and not part of his title.

    3. Titles of family relations:

      Uncle Joe (don’t capitalize the word uncle when used like this: “my uncle”, but capitalize Uncle when it is used with a name); Aunt Emma (don’t capitalize aunt, but capitalize Aunt when it is used with a name).

      e.g. My aunt and uncle. My Aunt Mary and my Uncle George. My aunt is dead. My uncle is alive.

    4. this is wrong. it should be capitalized because Uncle Jack is considered a proper name. “Uncle” should not be capitalized if the sentence were to read: “I helped my uncle, Jack, off the horse.”


  7. @Christov #9: Yes, “uncle” should be capitalized in the first sentence. Uncle Jack is like Queen Mary or President Obama, it’s part of a title/name. (At risk of sounding — *gasp* — prescriptivist and therefore defying my training in the first day of Linguistics 101, punctuation and orthography are by definition prescriptivist.)

    @Moriarty #5: The third one, “British left waffle on Falklands” only works in British English, not Standard English. The Brits tend to consider corporate nouns (The left, Led Zeppelin, etc.) as grammatically plural, while Americans consider them, with some exception, grammatically singular, as evidenced in verb inflection. Most Americans would have said “The British left waffles on Falklands” with the same crash blossom effect. (Cf. “Led Zeppelin plays tonight in New York” vs. “Zep play tonight in London”; the first is grammatical for me, it’s probably not grammatical for Brits, and vice versa.)

    1. @insert #13: Actually by adding “my” then uncle is not a title and therefore should not be capitalized. If it simply read “I helped Uncle Jack off a horse” then the capitalization would be correct.

      1. Again, “uncle” can still be capitalized, even after the “my.” “Uncle Jack” is like saying “Billy Bob.” The man is always called by both names together.

        1. I disagree. You wouldn’t say “my Billy Bob” (unless you were trying to clear up confusion about which Billy Bob you were talking about)… and you wouldn’t say “my Uncle Jack.”

    2. “Uncle” should not have been capitalized in either of those sentences, because of the “my” before it. If there no were no “my,” then “Uncle” would have indeed been part of the name/title of the person.

  8. Regarding the virtues of using commas between all three clauses in a sentence, consider this excerpt (I forget who said it) from a (presumably hypothetical) commencement speech:

    “I’d like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”

    1. It was a book dedication. (“This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”) I don’t know who first wrote it, but I first saw it in Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s book Making Book. I think it was in the essay “On Copyediting.”

      If you think about it, it’s only a problem in writing. Btw, that comma that should go after Ayn Rand is called a serial comma. All sensible people employ serial commas.

      1. “All sensible people employ serial commas.”

        Could not agree more. The slightly-snobbier among us can also use “Oxford commas.”

        @14: It makes more sense as a print item, doesn’t it? A commencement speech is meant to be heard, not read, and the only reader would be the speech-writer, who would obviously understand what the lack of that extra comma really meant. People listening to a commencement speech wouldn’t be able to tell the comical difference.

      2. All sensible people employ serial commas.

        Thank you! I didn’t know the term for this. The people I work with never use it and I couldn’t get it across to them that “xx, xx and xx” means something different than “xx, xx, and xx”.

        1. “xx, xx and xx” means something different than “xx, xx, and xx”.

          In journalism school, they lock you in a tiger cage and torture you until you stop using serial commas. Five years later, and I still get flashbacks any time I so much as see someone else write, “xx, xx, and xx.”

          1. I have a general horror of that last comma, but when you’re stacking up complex dependent clauses or double objects (think Sonny and Cher), sometimes you just have to use it or the sentence makes no sense.

          2. Interesting thread regarding the serial comma. My high-school English teacher always said that serial commas were excessive and not needed.

      3. The serial comma is also called the “Oxford comma”, at least in Canada. I normally employ it in writing lists to avoid possible confusion. However, I am occasionally required to write things in “American”, so I have learned to avoid lists whenever possible. (I can also spell for American readers.)

  9. @insert #12, christov #9: Also, if I happen to have only one uncle then the joke can be about both the importance of proper punctuation and capitalization. :)

    “I helped my uncle, Jack, off a horse.”


  10. I love that this neologism works so well with the older term “garden-path”. Now I know what grows there!

  11. Also known as ‘Harvard Commas’ I believe.

    Wikipedia points out this can cause trouble too:
    “To my mother, Ayn Rand, and God”

    Here in NZ, the last Government Printing Office style guide (before the printing office was sold off) recommends serial commas, but also says elsewhere commas are a matter of discretion.

    1. The problem with, “I’d like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God” is not with punctuation, but style. The order of things, as written, leaves open the possibility that the intent was to cite Ayn Rand as an influence somewhere lower than God.

      I think Rand might have objected to that statement on the grounds that that she should have been the third and putative higher power.

      But the sly error of putting her in the middle becomes an ordinary comment if it reads:

      “I’d like to thank Ayn Rand, my parents, and God.”

      That demotion certainly would have brought her strongest objection of all.

  12. A pooly aging joke from the Bush presidency:

    “…Until there is no enemy, but peace.”
    ~Maj Gen WH Rupertus USMC

    The final line of the Marine Corps Creed provides familiar words for all too many Americans in this day and age, as we enter into our sixth year of armed conflict in the Middle Eastern Theatre. Written down it is perfectly clear; when all of the Nation’s enemies are restrained by force of arms (or the threat thereof) the Marines will be in a position to beat their swords into plowshares ad take up peaceable occupations at last. Unfortunately much of the civilian leadership of the Nation has not had the benefit of bearing arms in the defense of America’s interests at home or abroad, and consequently only heard the creed spoken in a theatre of cinema.

    It is our contention that the brave men and women of the United States Armed Forces are being led into the furnace of war by way of a grievous grammatical error. Ladies and gentlemen we are begging you to conserve punctuation at home so that we might collect it for immediate shipment to Washington D.C. for consumption by the White House and Joint Chiefs of Staff. Every comma you can spare in this period of wartime privation could easily keep one brave Marine from shipping-out to the Hell-on-Earth on the other side of the world. Every time you find your sentence concisely ending think of the family that will not be pulled apart by war. Every semi-colon dug out from the attic to join two nearly complete yet related thoughts can mean one less orphaned child or grieving widow. Please conserve as best you can, national stockpiles of punctuation are dwindling faster than they could ever be replenished by the diminished civilian manufacturing base.

    This message brought to you by the Grammar Police in conjunction with the Semanticists for Peace.

  13. Hmm, I really thought I had seen it recently on The Oatmeal, but in researching this comment I find I must have seen it elsewhere. He did do an awesome poster on the Semicolon recently, that may be why I made the jump from “punctuation” to “The Oatmeal”.

  14. Reminds me of an old joke.
    A plant manager reads out a telegram addressed to an unknown employee, in the hope that the right person would come forward.
    “Dear John not getting any better come home soon Maggy”
    “Dear John not getting any better come home soon Maggy”
    Finally one employee comes forward to mention that he should include punctuation.
    So he reads it again.
    “Dear John. Not getting any. Better come home soon. Maggy.”

  15. At the risk of going off-topic, I also get huge sense confusion between British and US English, due to US English not realising that prepositions are effectively ‘words as punctuation’ and dispensing with them.

    The store will open Monday. (How does one open a Monday? How does a store open a Monday?)
    The store will open ON Monday.
    The store will open, Monday – well that would work as US English, but the comma gives back the sense that it is not Monday that is being opened.

    Dropping prepositions has become so pervasive in UK TV advertising of new-release DVDs that I am now convinced there is a regular formal event called “DVD Monday”.

    The voiceover guy never gets near to implying a comma, and so “Latest Cinema Blockbuster – available on DVD Monday”

    And the US/British corporate nouns plural thing referred to above is not definitive IMHO. “British Left Waffles on Falklands” is, to this British English speaker, perfectly fine, so not at all sure the suggested rule is correct. As a business writer over here I can assure that the corporate noun is single. I write proposals and it is a crime to mix corporate noun and we or they. So if you think otherwise it is probably through being exposed to sloppy speech from Brits.

    The BBC do not do anything (they don’t) but it does a lot. It is it, not they. Though some nouns are admittedly less corporate. Led Zep is a group of people and it is the people who play – they do – but that is becoming a style not grammar question. Pedantry can sometimes fail when faced with classy style (and occasionally common usage, sad to say)!

    [ends ramble]

  16. Something I forgot to mention:

    A cat has claws at the end of its paws.
    A comma is a pause at the end of a clause.

  17. It’s like this sentence-

    Woman without her man is nothing.

    The punctuation can completely change the meaning…

    Woman: without her, man is nothing.


    Woman, without her man, is nothing.

  18. A humorous song I’d heard years ago, around the time of the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana was based on a comma situation as well as homophones. Unfortunately, since her untimely death, it’s lost its humor.

    It was either called “Drink Up, Chuck and Di” or “Drink, Upchuck, and Die.”

  19. hahaha this reminds me of a misplaced modifier example my teacher gave us a few years back…

    “Hot and steamy, Grandma took the turkey out of the oven.”
    when you know it should really be
    “Grandma took the hot and steamy turkey out of the oven.”

  20. This is my favourite sentence like this. It is completely correct, although without any punctuation. Feel free to try and figure it out:

    John while Mary had had had had had had had had had had been correct.

    Again — except for punctuation missing within the sentence itself, it is entirely correct.

    1. It’s one ‘had’ short:

      john where mary had had had had had had had had had had had the teachers approval

  21. Um to #28
    i believe the sentence is
    “A woman without her man is useless”
    just saying… without the ‘A’ its not a Complete sentence

  22. @Xopher “All sensible people employ serial commas”

    Not really, eh?

    The serial comma seems to be prescribed American English, and whilst I would not dream of saying that one should never use it, there are situations that are better without it and, furthermore, the introduction of a serial comma is not a silver bullet for removing ambiguity.

    Take an example book dedication of “To my father, God and Queen Elizabeth.” The introduction of a serial comma (To my father, God, and Queen Elizabeth) could add the meaning of God being the author’s father.

    Basically, using one’s brain when writing instead of blindly following one way or another is the way to go. :oD

    1. Basically, using one’s brain when writing instead of blindly following one way or another is the way to go.

      I quite agree. I don’t think your example is a likely problem, though, and also I don’t think omitting the serial comma helps any. Rephrasing it would be better: “To my father, to God, and to Queen Elizabeth” (actually there are many ways to rephrase that that make it clear).

      I think that in most cases using the serial comma is better than omitting it, but it’s always better to make things clear than to blindly follow any rule. That’s why humans still have to copyedit!

      By the way, you’re quite wrong in saying it’s prescribed American English. Until quite recently it was proscribed; I was taught in school never to use the serial comma, and it took me until college to realize how stupid that was.

      1. In Canada, too; and I realized it was stupid with the same quote, except I heard it told with Hubbard instead of Rand.

  23. #35, while #33 had had had had had had had had had had had had, had had had had had had had had had had had had had. Had had had had had had had had had had had had had one more had and thusly won.

  24. Re: Eats, Shoots, and Leaves

    One of my favorite things about that book is that it comes with a pull-out page of stickers of various punctuation marks (commas/quotes, periods, etc.) that you can then use as a guerrila grammarian to fix signs that you view out in the wild.

  25. #35, while #33 had had had had had had had had had had had had, had had had had had had had had had had had had had. Had had had had had had had had had had had had had one more had and thusly won.
    Mould and Arrowsmith have a great routine about this where two different reviewers have quoted their had had routine differently, and then they compare the script of that sequence with what was said on stage.

  26. There’s a street near where I live called ‘camels hump road’..with no apostrophe. I always expect to see lots of happy camels walking down that street, or very bumpy pavement where all the camels humped the road.

  27. John, where Mary had had “had,” had had “had had;” “had had” had had the teacher’s approval. ???

  28. A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and proceeds to fire it at the other patrons.

    ‘Why?’ asks the confused, surviving waiter amidst the carnage, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

    ‘Well, I’m a panda’, he says, at the door. ‘Look it up.’

    The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation. ‘Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.’

  29. A teacher once gave us the following:

    a woman without her man is nothing

    And told us to punctuate it any way we wanted. Most guys wrote:

    A woman, without her man, is nothing.

    Most girls wrote:

    A woman: without her, man is nothing.

    Punctuation is powerful…

  30. That that is is that that is not is not.

    That that is, is. That that is not, is not.

    I always liked this one.

  31. Consider: “I leave one million dollars to be divided equally between John, Mike and Robert.”
    Compared to: “I leave one million dollars to be divided equally between John, Mike, and Robert.”

    1. “Among” is the correct preposition with more that two nouns in any case.
      “I wish my fortune to be divided equally among John, Mary, and Robert.”

  32. I heard that panda joke differently…goes something like this:

    Panda goes into a bar and picks up a hot chick, they go back to her place. He padded over the fridge, made himself a nice sandwich, then grabs the girl and gives her good ravaging, then silently gets up to leave. The girl says “what, no pillow-talk?”, and the panda points to the famous wildlife guidebook: “Panda: eats, shoots, and leaves”

    1. The version I heard involved an unpaid prostitute, oral sex, and the punchline “eats bushes and leaves.”

  33. Zach Galifianakis has a joke similar to this. it goes like this:

    She had a crack baby.

    She had a crack, baby.

  34. Haha, reminds me of my English class a few weeks ago the sentance was:
    She ate and fed the baby – WRONG
    She ate, and fed the baby – CORRECT

  35. I got my wife to write something about commas – she does transcription work and keeps up with that sort of stuff. I’ve disagreed with her about comma usage and other punctuation rules so I’m not saying she is absolutely correct, but she definitely knows more than I do on the subject.

    She wrote:
    Comma usage rules have really changed in the past few years. We used to be taught that commas were to be used after every item in a list. For example, the old way was: Please go buy bread, cheese, and fruit. It is now: Please go buy cheese, bread and fruit.

    Comma usage rules have changed so that you now use them only to make a sentence make sense or when changing thoughts.

    An example of making sense would be:

    “I want to eat Mom.” versus “I want to eat, Mom.” That is self-explanatory.

    An example of comma usage when changing thoughts would be:

    “I went to the store to buy one loaf of white bread, although I would have settled for wheat, and ended buying two loaves.”

    This is for comma rules only. Depending on the formality of your communication, we would have to get into using en-dashes and em-dashes rather than commas when changing ideas, etc. I don’t think any of us want to go there at this point!!!

  36. Some of this isn’t a question of absolute rules but of the selected style. For example, AP Style and the New York Times stylebook forbid the serial comma; Chicago Manual of Style requires it, as do Strunk and White and MLA.

    I have no evidence to prove this, but I suspect that dropping the final comma fits with other stylistic conventions selected by newspapers to conserve space (both in print and over the wires). Since that’s far less a concern now, maybe it’s time to switch wholesale to the serial comma form.

    1. That is good guess about why the serial comma is not used in journalism. I don’t know why MLA has decided to require it, though. They now require only a single space after periods and colons. Breaking the double-space habit has been ver difficult. Thank goodness for contol f.

  37. i was talking to some one and asked wat sports they played they said “hockey football” i thout it was pretty cool that there was a sport called hockey football… id love to watch :)

  38. Where are all the grammar police today? There are some shockers here that would usually be pounced upon; not ’nuff meta isit now?

  39. A poster on the London Underground a few years ago, warning the public about ‘suspect packages’, gave the opposite of the advice intended. It showed a picture of an unattended bag on a tube carriage. The text should have read:

    Do not approach.
    Ask other passengers or inform a member of staff.

    Instead it said

    Do not approach, ask other passengers, or inform a member of staff.

  40. To those who posted re: King George and the semicolons…wouldn’t an M-dash fulfill the same function?

  41. Let us not forget the classic Lionel Hutz business card

    gets quickly changed to

  42. More a matter of usage than punctuation (I think) – a restaurant I used to patronize had this sign on the inside of the men’s room door.

    Must wash your hands
    before leaving.

    Given that one is behind the closed lavatory door when reading this sign, it leaves one clueless as to the means of summoning an employee to perform this service.

  43. Am I the only one pedantic enough to point out that it should be King Charles being referred to as having his height reduced?

  44. As someone who chuckled through the book Eats, Shoots & Leaves, I really did laugh out loud seeing this. Thank you.

    Nordette Adams

  45. From my sixth grade English teacher (and I actually remember it — it’s supposed to be authentic, from Czarist Russia: the Czar wrote the first message and a sympathetic underling changing the punctuation — who knows?)

    Pardon impossible. To be sent to Siberia.
    Pardon! Impossible to be sent to Siberia.

  46. All this blather about uncle Jack and Uncle Jack, and no one seems to have noticed that the correct way to remove ambiguity from the sentence is: I helped my uncle, Jack, off a horse. “Jack” is a noun in apposition to “my uncle” and thus should be separated from it with a comma. Capitalizing uncle is not only not the solution, it’s frankly incorrect, as many have pointed out.

  47. I once gave my boss a contract tosign, but then changes were made to the contract, so I had to re-submit it to him. I attached a post-it on which I wrote “Please resign”. Thankfully, he had a sense of humor!

  48. My fave is still:

    “Those old things in the attic are my husband’s” vs.
    “Those old things in the attic are my husbands.”

  49. And the age-old battle between literary vs. journalistic style in comma-delimited lists:

    “I’d like to thank my parents, God and Barbara Striesand.”

    Also, “next week’s guests include Isaac Asimov, a member of Parliament and a dildo collector.”

  50. My favorite example is from the scholars in the group “Men Without Hats”. They prove th e essential value of the apostrophe.

    “You can leave your friends behind.”
    “You can leave your friend’s behind.”

    Do not choose unwisely…

  51. Just popped in to add another anecdote to the growing number of comments. At my school in the South West of England, there used to be signs around the campus every June which clearly said, in large red lettering “SILENCE EXAMS”

    I never got the opportunity to sit one, but I always wondered about the people who did. Why would you need a qualification in silence?

  52. The English disease; its too complicated, lets make another rule.

    Or KISS, but I’m too stupid to understand.

  53. Should any commas be used in this sentence when referring to my husband???
    My husband John has been asked by several people to consider running.

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