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September 29, 2014

What a difference a comma makes

Almost everyone surely knows that “The panda eats, shoots, and leaves” is an example of how a variation in punctuation  can change the intended meaning of a phrase.

When I was very young, every toilet on British trains had a little notice saying, “Gentlemen lift the seat.” One always wondered if this meant “Gentlemen, lift the seat.” or “Gentlemen lift the seat.”

The Germans have an advantage here, as in their language the imperative mood is always followed by an exclamation mark, which prevents any such possible confusion.

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