To make my point about how punctuation can change meaning, here are three fun examples:
1) I’ve seen this one go around Facebook under the guise of, “Punctuation saves lives!”
Let’s eat Grandpa.
(I doubt he’s very tasty)
Let’s eat, Grandpa.
(Yo, Grandpa, dinner’s ready! I’ll race ya to the table!)
2) I saw this one in college during my nerd training (read: English major studies).The professor, a woman, wrote the following sentence on the board:
Woman, without her man, is nothing.
I was rather incensed. Until she changed the punctuation.
Woman: without her, man is nothing.
And then I laughed.
3) One of Lynne Truss’s books, Twenty-odd Ducks, includes a punctuation joke right on the cover with the title. With the hyphen, the title means, “roughly twenty ducks.” If you take the hyphen out, it means, “twenty weird ducks.” So the cover has twenty funky ducks: some that are striped, one ready to go snorkeling, and so on.
Even the subtitle has a play on punctuation: Why, Punctuation Matters
On each page spread, the book has the same sentence but with different punctuation (and therefore different meanings), plus illustrations to match.
You need to get your hands on a copy. Really. As proof, I present my kids’ favorite 2-page spread from the book. It’s gruesome, which may be why they love it.
The first page shows a king strolling near a group of girls bowing and throwing flowers at him as he says, “Ah, life is grand.” The caption reads as follows:
The king walked and talked. Half an hour later, his head was cut off.
The second page makes the whole thing read as one sentence, which changes the meaning drastically:
The king walked and talked half an hour after his head was cut off.
Above the caption: three illustrations showing the king decapitated and his head talking (“Why can’t I feel my lips?”) as his body walks around.
Hysterical, if you ask me. At the end of the book, Truss manages (quite brilliantly) to write an entire letter to a school teacher on one page and then changes the meaning entirely using nothing but punctuation on the other.
Convinced that punctuation matters? I hope so. At the very least, remember point number one: punctuation saves lives.