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Cost of a Misplaced Comma: $2.13 Million

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Has this been posted yet? I saw it on Analytical Grammar's facebook page:


(From an about.com article)


Cost of a Misplaced Comma: $2.13 Million


If you happen to work in the legal division of Rogers Communications Inc., you've already learned the lesson that punctuation matters. According to Toronto's Globe and Mail for August 6, 2006, a misplaced comma in a contract to string cable lines along utility poles may cost the Canadian company a whopping $2.13 million.


Back in 2002, when the company signed off on a contract with Aliant Inc., the folks at Rogers were confident that they had locked up a long-term agreement. They were surprised, therefore, when in early 2005 Aliant gave notice of a hefty rate-hike--and even more surprised when regulators with the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) backed their claim.


It's all right there on page seven of the contract, where it states that the agreement "shall continue in force for a period of five years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.â€


The devil is in the details--or, more specifically, in the second comma. “Based on the rules of punctuation,†observed the CRTC regulators, the comma in question “allows for the termination of the [contract] at any time, without cause, upon one-year's written notice.â€


We'd explain the issue simply by pointing to principle #4 at our page on the Top Four Guidelines for Using Commas Effectively: use a pair of commas to set off interrupting words, phrases, or clauses.


Without that second comma after "successive five year claims," the business about terminating the contract would apply only to successive terms, which is what Rogers' lawyers thought they were agreeing to. However, with the addition of the comma, the phrase "and thereafter for successive five year terms" is treated as an interruption.


Certainly that's how Aliant treated it. They didn't wait for that first "period of five years" to expire before giving notice of the rate hike, and thanks to the extra comma, they didn't have to.


“This is a classic case of where the placement of a comma has great importance,†Aliant said. Indeed.


Picky stuff, this punctuation, but you never know when it's going to make a big difference.

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This is why I interpret this quote from the PA home ed law --


"a log, made contemporaneously with the instruction, which designates by title the reading materials used,"


-- to require a log which designates the reading materials used,

as opposed to a log that designates every little thing you ever do for "school".


Grammar matters.

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