Question of the Week

What punctuation errors have you come across in your legal career?

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In this month’s Bryan Garner on Words column, lawyer-lexicographer Bryan A. Garner explains the importance of punctuation and offers a quiz.

“Attentiveness to punctuation is a matter of temperament, I’ve come to believe,” Garner writes. Some people get thrilled about punctuation, while others “see a reference to placement of periods and commas in relation to end-quotes and immediately stop reading.”

Indeed, punctuation mistakes have had their fair share of legal trouble throughout history. In 1872, while Ulysses S. Grant was president, the federal government passed a new tariff act, and a small punctuation error in the law wound up costing the government more than $40 million in current dollars.

And in 2017 and 2018, the Oxford comma was a source of legal woes for a Maine dairy company, which settled a delivery drivers dispute for $5 million. A federal 1st Circuit panel found ambiguity in the state law’s lack of a serial comma.

This week, we’d like to ask: What punctuation errors have you come across in your legal career? Extra or missing commas, missing periods, or maybe a misplaced apostrophe? Did you point out the errors, and were there legal ramifications?

Answer in the comments on our social media channels via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Check out last week’s question: Do you enjoy lawyer jokes? What do you like or not like about them?

And view some of last week’s answers from Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Featured answer:

Posted by April Asbell on Facebook:

“Regardless of your profession, you have to be able to laugh at yourself in the incredibly crazy things we see every day. As a public defender, I laugh every time I hear someone say that they want a ‘real lawyer.’”

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