Wednesday, November 18, 2009

For want of quotation marks the meaning was lost

In The Game of Words, Willard R. Espy writes :

Misplaced commas have resulted in curious misunderstandings. It is said that an ancient Greek, consulting the oracle at Delphi as to whether he should go a-warring, was told:

Thou shalt go thou shalt return
never by war shalt thou perish.

Optimistically adding commas after 'go' and 'return', the Greek took up arms, and was promptly slain. He should have put that second comma after 'never'.

Punctuation errors have not caused me such an existential crisis but there have been occasions when my dictation has caused raised eyebrows. For instance, Jaya wrote the title for my first post and looked at me with the quizzical expression that I had when I first saw a report from a management consultancy firm having the legend 'This page is intentionally left blank'. I looked at what she had written - 'Why I do?' I told her that 'I do' is within quotation marks. Now I didn't look so illiterate.


  1. Kudos to both of you. Your blog is an inspiration to all of us who still have not learnt to communicate despite the boon of moving tongue and a healthy vocal chord. Listening and watching are other skills that we yet have to master.
    keep up the good work. A positive frame of mind is a wonderful asset. Have you read the book " The secret" by Rhonda Byrnes??

  2. Vinitha,

    I have not read the book. Actually I don't read self-help books. They don't hold my interest.

  3. I will not classify it as a self help book, can't stand them myself, either

  4. Mr. K,

    Some decade or so in the past, I read an article about a young woman who had suddenly lost consciousness and declared vegetative for many years before finally achieving some of what you have now (I think possibly in the US). I am fascinated by language, how it changes over time, how meanings and forms morph. Having found your web log through a series of link-followings, I am reassured that the human ability to communicate, to share love, satisfy needs, express art, has never been stronger than it is now with you.

    Thank you,

  5. Kesu,

    Look up "Eats, Shoots and Leaves"

  6. Kailash,
    Interesting. We ignore punctuations at our peril.