Those Pesky Commas Give Governments Fits

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Today is the 11th annual National Punctuation Day, a commemoration Jeff Rubin created to encourage and promote the correct use of the period, comma, apostrophe, colon and semicolon, hyphen and dash, parenthesis and brackets, exclamation point, question mark, ellipsis and quotation marks.

With so many high school graduates entering college unprepared to do college-level work, a trend intensified by the shorthand used in social media, it should surprise no one that 28% of incoming college freshman were enrolled in remedial classes, Rubin writes, citing the 2004 report from the National Center for Educational Statistics.

More recently, the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education found that “nearly 60% of first-year college students discover … they must take remedial courses in English or mathematics” for which they earn no college credit but pay tuition and must pass to take first-year college English.

The National Center for Education Statistics, an arm of the U.S. Department of Education, was silent in this year’s report, issued last May, on the number of college freshmen taking remedial coursework.

The incidence of incorrect and unnecessary punctuation can be seen everywhere, especially on menus and handmade signs.

  • Unnecessary quotations marks: “Free” puppies or “free” kittens, for example. There’s a catch? They’re not really free?
  • Erroneous use of the apostrophe as a possessive, especially it’s. Its is the possessive; it’s is the contraction for it is. People who wouldn’t write her’s or their’s don’t hesitate to write it’s as the possessive.
  • Misuse of the apostrophe, as in “egg’s benedict.”
  • Omitting needed commas and inserting unneeded commas.

Earlier this month, the Nashville Tennessean reported that the lack of a comma will keep the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation from releasing a report to Nashville City Council because of a law that says such records should be released “only in compliance with a subpoena or an order of a court of record.”

The lack of a comma after “subpoena” means that either a subpoena or an order must come from come from a court, the attorney general of Tennessee ruled, and not the city council. Were there a comma following subpoena, then “of a court of record” would apply only to “order” and the city council subpoena would be honored.

Closer to home, the absence of a comma in a Middletown, Ohio, parking ordinance law led a judge on the Ohio 12th District Court of Appeals to find Andrea Cammellieri not guilty of illegal parking.

She had parked her pickup truck in July on one of its streets and found a parking ticket on its windshield when she returned the next day.

The law under which she was cited listed vehicles that cannot be parked more than 24 hours, which included “motor vehicle camper.” After reviewing the ticket, Cammellieri made the effort to read that law and took it to mean that mobile homes could not be parked more than 24 hours on Middletown streets, that “motor vehicle camper” did not apply to her pickup.

The city pleaded that “motor vehicle, camper” was intended but didn’t include the comma because it didn’t have a copy editor on hand to ensure correct punctuation.

The judge was not persuaded and agreed with Cammellieri that the law was worded wrongly when he dismissed the case.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.