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Off topic: $2.13 million dollars for a comma
Thread poster: LegalTransform

LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:28
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
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Aug 7, 2006

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Rosa Maria Duenas Rios  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:28
Not only the comma... Aug 7, 2006

To me, this is a problem of obscure drafting in general. The way it is written, comma or no comma, it is difficult to interpret that the contract is "locked" for the first five years.

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

Again, to me, this is a classic case of where the choosing of the laywers has great importance.

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Oliver Walter  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:28
Member (2005)
German to English
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Avoid the need for commas Aug 7, 2006

That was an unintended meaning caused by the presence of the second comma in the quoted text:

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.”

I have noticed in some (perhaps it is the case in many) texts written by lawyers in the UK that they choose their words and sentences so that the intended meaning is expressed without the use of any commas. This is supposed to make the text unambiguous but it sometimes makes it difficult to understand in spite of that. In the $2.13M example the second comma modified which part of the sentence was governed by the word "unless". I think (i.e. I hope) that if I were translating this I would realise this ambiguity when I proof-read my English text. Rather than letting the meaning depend on a comma it would be better in this case to split the sentence into two sentences in which the second sentence would make it explicit what was governed by the "unless".
I have managed to write the above in a way that I think is unambiguous and does not require any commas for its meaning. Have you any comments on that aspect of my posting?

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Hester Eymers  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:28
Member (2005)
English to Dutch
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Eats, shoots and leaves Aug 8, 2006

The lawyers are absolutely right, in my opinion. A contract should be written and read carefully, including comma's.

There is a quite famous book (and joke) about punctuation by Lynne Truss. It is called 'Eats, shoots and leaves':

A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and proceeds to fire it at the other patrons.

"Why?" asks the confused, surviving waiter amidst the carnage, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

"Well, I'm a panda," he says at the door. "Look it up."

The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation. "Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves."

A similar joke is told in Australia, where an Australian male is compared to a wombat because he "eats, roots, and leaves". (The verb "to root" in Australian colloquial usage means to have sexual intercourse.) [Source: Wikipedia]

And the fun goes on: When Truss was driven to an award ceremony she told the driver that she wrote a book on punctuation. The cab-driver said: "Well, you'd better not be late then." [Source: again Wikipedia]

'Eats, shoots and leaves' is very instructive and amusing as well. For those who speak Dutch: it has been translated into Dutch ('Eten, vuren en beuken').

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