Punctuation can get you punched.
It doesn’t matter if it’s good punctuation or bad. I’ve irked people using either.
There was the time that I was suckered into working on a group project to produce a document. They brought brains and ideas. I fixed the commas and apostrophes.
“An apostrophe doesn’t make a word plural,” I shouted after the 16th violation. “The Jones Family isn’t The Jone’s. That doesn’t make sense.”
“But it’s more than one Jones. So I have to write it ‘The Jone’s.’”
“No, no, no! That punctuation means you have one guy named Jone who owns something. But their last name is Jones, with an ‘S.’ If there’s more than one of them, it’s the Joneses. No apostrophe.”
“But,” my workmate countered, “what if the Joneses own a flower shop. Then it’s the Jone’s Flower Shop.”
“Stop it!” I screamed. “It’s the Joneses’ Flower Shop. Or maybe even the Joneses’s Flower Shop. I don’t know anymore.”
“Tell you what,” he said. “I’ll write a line of apostrophes in the margin and you can place them wherever your heart desires.”
That’s when I punched him.
The problem is that I paid too much attention in English classes back in school. Not total attention. Just enough to get punched for punctuation.
One summer break, my cousin Scott and I shouldered our way through the midway of the county fair. Some big, bulky guy jostled Scott. Scotty grabbed the moose by the elbow, whirled him around, and growled, “You want to fight me, buddy?”
The ogre leaned in. “Yeah!”
“You sure you want to fight me, buddy?”
The hulk’s nostrils flared. His fists clenched. “I do, and right now. Put ’em up.”
Scott stepped behind me, pushed me toward the brute, and chirped, “Here’s me buddy. Let’s fight.”
The bull cocked his fist. Scotty claims I screamed like a 3-year-old girl who’s lost her dolly.
He’s wrong, of course. I was too busy winding up to set the land-speed record for the mile to scream — until I noticed that both Scotty and the bull had collapsed in gales of laughter.
“Burton,” Scott choked out, “meet Ralph. We so had you going. You should have seen how scared you looked.”
“Not funny, jerk face. And you didn’t punctuate it correctly.”
“I distinctly heard a comma between the words ‘me’ and ‘buddy’ when you said, ‘You want to fight me, buddy?’”
“Then you said, ‘Here’s me buddy.’ No comma. That’s totally different. It’s the English phrasing for ‘Here is my buddy.’ The comma changes the entire meaning.”
The gorilla’s brow furrowed. “Is he always this boring?”
“Only when he’s scared.” Scott paused. “No, actually he’s always this boring. Whatever you do, don’t mention apostrophes unless you have a pillow. He’ll put you to sleep yammering about those things.”
I crossed my arms. “Jest if you must, but remember this, proper punctuation is not only pleasing, it’s essential for a fulfilling life.”
The bull arched his eyebrows at Scott. “May I?”
“Be me guest, buddy,” my cousin said.
A second later, I learned that punctuation can get you punched.
Correct Cole’s grammar at firstname.lastname@example.org, the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook or at www.burtonwcole.com.
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