Punctuation: A Matter of Life and Death

628px-Achtung.svgWe all know the importance of punctuation. Periods (.), commas (,), quotation marks (” “), semicolons (;), colons (:), question marks (?), and other punctuation marks in the English language give clarity (being clear, not confusing) and meaning to a phrase or a sentence.

On a recent airplane flight, I was reminding of just how important punctuation is in conveying (communicating) meaning. Before take-off (when the airplane leaves the ground) while waiting on the tarmac (road covered with a black material, like on an airplane runway), I took out one of the airline magazines to look at.

This magazine was actually a copy of Sky Mall, which is a catalogue (magazine with things to buy) that tries to sell things to passengers while they suffer from diminished capacity (with weakened mental powers) from having too little oxygen (substance in the air needed by humans to breathe) in the airplane.

Near the back of the magazine, I saw a picture of a T-shirt for sale that read:



If the T-shirt’s message isn’t clear, let me explain.

1) LET’S EAT GRANDMA:  We will bake Grandma in the oven or cook her on a barbeque and invite Dr. Hannibal Lecter to join us for dinner (from the movie Silence of the Lambs).

2) LET’S EAT, GRANDMA:  We want to enjoy Grandma’s company while we eat a meal together.

And, yes, in this case, commas save lives. I know which sentence Grandma thinks has the correct punctuation.

~ Lucy

Graphic Credit: Achtung from Wikipedia

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25 Responses to Punctuation: A Matter of Life and Death

  1. emiliano says:

    That´s incredible good Lucy.

    Let us show you how it could be in Spanish the same phrase.
    May be you know some Spanish? Who know Lucy´s life?

    Mamá vamos a comer = you are advising mama that is time to eat (with her too)

    Vamos a comer mama = and advice to your mama we, not her, are going to eat.
    (may be she have phoned you and inform her it is not a good time to talk)

    Vamos a comer a mama = Yes, here you may invite Hannibal Lecter to lunch because your mama is the dish.

    Here dear Lucy there is not a comma, only a letter A and a different place to our MAMA.

    Very helpful Lucy.
    I like this kind of information very very much.
    Given for you even more.

  2. Dan says:

    Hey, thanks Lucy.

    I visited SkyMall’s website and looked at the online catalog just to see what was that.

    Now, I better understand. I was looking at the sections called -Problem Solving- and -Competitive Spirit-…quite something..interesting..
    You want to have that kind of publication while sitting on the throne. I

    Over here we get similar publications into the mail box. There are these guys delivering the pamphlets looking Bangladeshi or somewhere from those regions

    Every supermarket chain has its own, and there are many of it. So, as you can imagine we have to constantly get rid of all that paper.

    Hey Lucy,

    These days I was looking and hearing from the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington.

    It kind of gave me an understanding of the issues between blacks and whites over there. That was interesting.

    Something that let me wondering, is why there where only former democratic presidents giving speeches and no one from the conservative party.

    Needless to say, looking at the images of the time showing bathrooms for colored only, makes one thinks the level of stupidity we can get at.

    Can you guys imagine, talking with an alien from another planet and telling what we did back in our history?

    Well, things look better today, apart for someone gassing its own citizens. Sorry, I am getting carried too far. Better stop.

    Thank you.

  3. Fernando says:

    Dear Emiliano,

    By the way, let me show you how it could be in Portuguese.

    Vamos comer, vó = invite my grandma to having some meal
    Vamos comer a vó = here we also invite Hannibal Lecter and cannibalistc tribes to eat grandma.

    Only a common and a letter A make all difference.

    It’s amazing how several languages are strangely connected.

    All the best.

  4. Marcos Gomes says:


    [Link removed according to ESL Podcast policy: Search “The fatal comma By Richard Clark” for source.]

    I am not sure if this story is true or not, but it illustrates the power of commas. Czarina Maria Fyodorovna once saved
    the life of a man by transposing a single comma in a warrant signed by her husband, Alexander III, which exiled a
    criminal to imprisonment and death in Siberia. On the bottom of the warrant the czar had written:

    “Pardon impossible, to be sent to Siberia.”

    Maria Fyodorovna changed the punctuation so that her husband’s instructions read:

    “Pardon, impossible to be sent to Siberia.”

    The criminal was set free

  5. Lassana says:

    Hi Everybody,

    It’s right and it’s difficult to write sentences with the right ponctuation. Especially for me who is being learning english language.

    Sometimes it’s funny to see that phrases can have an opposite sense if we do not respect the ponctuation like this story.

    The French language also has the same rules, but it is much more easy for me because it’s my native language.

    Forgive me Jeff, Lucy and Warren when I forget ponctuations or write not correctly certain words in sentences.

    But I am confident because all days I feel that my english is improving, thanks to you 😉

    See you soon


  6. HILARIO says:


  7. emiliano says:

    Fernando, thanks, it is clear only an a changes meaning at all like in Spanish.
    We have the same roots nearly write the same language but sound it is some
    how different.
    I have been several times in Portugal and we could understand each other, so nice
    beautiful country Portugal, I love it.
    I imagine you are from Brasil?, i think you said that.

    Marcos, nice also, that´s so important a comma.

    Sure, all our languages have this comma so important, but I don´t know
    anythiing about chinese or japanese or even arab. Does exist a coma in
    these languages?, Please, people from these countries tell us.


  8. emiliano says:

    Dan, don´t stop please.

    Say which ever thing you like to say.
    Sure you´ll be right.


  9. emiliano says:


    Late and wrong, but nobody knows the future it seems to be the least bad now not to get into a contest announced, could be and is sure to be disastrous for many innocent people very reluctantly involved in an absurd war like almost all that there are and have been.

    Not is the same dry and forceful hit, immediately, with no possibility
    of reaction, without fanfare, quietly, without your left hand know what it does or will do right, previously announcing a contest or retaliation voices.

    Stupidity tends to be contagious and the world of politics I feel that spreads very quickly.

    Alegria not exaggerate the conflict or war that already exists. That evil does not extend beyond the limits established in appearance, yet carte blanche for any dictator does what he pleases with his own people or with others. It may gassing helpless people with impunity dies a horrible, horrible, indescribable really.

    This satisfies no one, is an aftertaste of injustice, tragedy, portends nothing good helplessness.
    Who wants a contest?. Enlarge the war?. Nobody in their right mind.

    simply another blow at the right time, without advance notice a stark warning, instant, would have been more than enough for the responsibility to use the forbidden had failed to appreciate that and no, some things ARE NOT , but this has been a challenge to voices, see who brags more and apparently the shouting is over when the occasion is lost.

    The dead are not revived, but please do not have, but the serious offense will be punished and either continue doing what he pleases with his people or with others.

    If not suffer so many people, if not murdered and continue killing, warring without remedy, all of this seems a farce between thugs.

    You rule, you send, you do not ask me if I want a war, if I want my people, my boys are going to die in foreign lands

    because I always say NO. I DO NOT WANT A WAR.

    Assume your leadership responsibilities and face the discrediting and praise if they occur.

    Take action if you must, for it is in control, and do not look to their constituents. No surgery for a bad tackle without blood. The responsibility is always the surgeon and the patient. Here the patient has not it is already dead, and who should have care what who killed it.

    then acting surgeon in the operation due to other potential patients who may be killed in that horrible way, without consulting anyone.
    We’ll find out, you’ll find out your responsability.
    Point and ran.
    Shame, shame, pain and utter disappointment at the lack of punishment to guilty. Moreover, incentive to continue doing the same and they come in many imitators.

    Neither is what I feel joy for no increase in war, sorrow for the impunity of certain acts.

    That´s my opinión but I may be wrong as every one.


  10. emiliano says:

    Following with the above subject, you may see this video from BBC.
    It is very very disturbing and very hard.

    Don´t see it if you don´t want to cry.

    Syria crisis: Incendiary bomb victims ‘like the walking dead’

    Yes I am very very sad, por people.
    Napalm is forbidden also the same like gas sarín and other

    Sorry if I disturb the blog.
    I can´t talk other subjects now.


  11. emiliano says:

    What happens to human beings?. No second day someone dies massacred, murdered, raped, by one or more other human beings.
    Humans beings themselves massacred by fellow like them.

    The other living things of this world kill to eat, or to survive, we kill us humans?.
    Which purpose or we have in our minds to assassinate each other. To crush the weak, the innocent cebarnos, invent the worst destructive weapons imaginable.
    was started with a stone, a stick, a jawbone of an ox or lamb, and so have been used increasingly, knives, swords, spears, arrows, maces, fire, stones, boiling oil, rifles, guns, planes, missiles and even gas mass murder our neighbors.

    It is a malignant virus that is within our existence that makes us so aggressive, violent, butchers, with ourselves and our neighbors?.
    said that God made ??us in his image and likeness, that mystery is to doubt amazing and frankly, can not be that the image or likeness of God, the supreme being all goodness, you can be the man throughout his existence. Evil, murders, wars, famine and so continue.
    ‘s you never learn?.

    Goodness is inside the human soul, of course, thankfully, but there are many doses of evil, violence, mindless aggression leads to kill our neighbors that we do not know, that finally, since such an attitude leads repeatedly million times, today, yesterday, and thousands of years before.

    We have the gift of speech but not talk to our neighbors, our brothers, we can write and we do not, we can reason and not reason. Simply kill to impose our criteria, for fun, for amusement, for simple and clear evil. And most of the time by ambition, power and money.
    We forget that we die, sooner than later, and to live well and in peace treasure not need wealth, power and hatred.

    The world is plunged into extreme violence of the human race, as always, destroys itself and other living things, as long as all this for what purpose?. I myself look inside myself and I know I can be violent in other circumstances, in other religious or dictatorial environments. Nobody can understand what is happening today, yesterday, or tomorrow. We’ll finish everything that exists?. Could be.

    I have no explanation for this, nobody does, extreme good and evil, that is the human being. Good Samaritan, good father, good mother, and cruel murderer simultaneously if need be.

    Who can understand?.

    More to the questions “to be or not to be that is the question” or “who I am, where I come to where I’m going”, we might think that we do so much damage to our neighbors and ourselves, while we are charitable, solidarity patients.

    Frankly it is very difficult to understand ourselves.

    But life, death, kindness, sadism and violence continue today in any part of the globe, and particularly in certain areas called “hot” of a lifetime. They fight, they kill, die innocent and this continues more.
    happen as usual, about the last years in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon, and many other areas?

    Pity can not understand.
    translated from spanish my own language and article. Sorry about mistakes, but I am more sorry
    about what we are and what we are doing.

  12. Aécio Flávio Perim says:

    There is a story about a person who wrote on a wall in Portuguese: “Matar o rei não é crime.” In English: Killing the king is not a crime. The king found out who was that person and called him to explain. The person said: “I’m sorry. I’ve forgotten to write a comma. The statement would be: “Matar o rei não, é crime.” In English: Killing the king, no, it’s a crime. Good one.
    Aecio from beautiful green and yellow Brazil.

  13. emiliano says:

    Consult the COMMON?

    What is this sr?, surprised, to punish some gassers of innocent women and children, consultation with the common parliament, but for the Rock says that London will always support the interests of the population of that Rock? who cares deeply?, it is clear that if you are so interested it is as they are yours, or you consider the rock like that.

    The right to life of other people far away not so personal and you should consult with the English Parliament whether it supports the operation of punishment and warning of an ally for life.
    And that should be not most grateful because throughout history “ally” have taken up the pieces to the British for nearly a hundred years.
    Where would the UK, if the USA had not come to his aid in the first and second world wars?.
    Just for instance it could be clear and finished, defeated by all means.

    It would have not needed to die ravens of the Tower, just without the Marines (always so reviled by all) and civilians mobilized in USA, the rule of his gracious Majesty had collapsed like a fall of house of cards since many years ago.

    Would have to give history lessons to these British MPs, like their premieres, may be, I think.

    To us Hispanics, who the hell ever helped us, I do not remember once.
    Ah yes, “Welcome Mr. Marshall” was then?. Not it wasn´t.

    We we isolated then. No Marshall help for us.

    My boy, removes, that was my most admired film Berlanga, one of the best Spanish film of all life, funny and tender.
    Which film good times and the break up.

    For if there any is doubts about the subject there are some news today of the Madrid daily ABC, thanks for keeping us informed on the Web.


  14. Dan says:

    Hi there guys,

    Please Emiliano, keep it simple, try to be more concise, put yourself in the shoes of whomever is responsible of reading our gibberish before posting it.
    I am not sure about that, but I guess that is Jessica.

    I sometimes feel sorry for whomever that is.

    Thank you! person behind the blog. Hope you do not hate us.


  15. Ben says:

    Comma does exist in Chinese as well.And I guess it has the same use as it is used in English——separate parts of a sentence.
    And if we translate the message Lucy has refered above,it is like:
    You see,Comparing with the expression in English,The second sentence has actually one more word.
    And I has heard from some foreigner saying that he doesn’t think of Chinese as words,but images.
    Do you have the same thought as he?

  16. Ben says:

    It is weired that I only spot a bunch of question marks(?) on the section I have writen in Chinese.
    Why Chinese cannot be displayed correctly on this web?
    Please tell me how to solve this problem if anyone can help me.

  17. emiliano says:

    Yes dear Ben,
    I always think in Chinese like a very difficult language that has lot of drawings quite
    complicate to consider them as letters. A figure it could be as a Word but not really
    formed with letters but with drawings intead.

    So, always we are very poor when have to understand Chinese culture and letters
    the same as with japanese, so difficult also and beatiful too. Like yours.
    Completely different, absolutely beautiful and difficult to us.

    So you have also commar, that´s is right, thanks a lot. First news I have about
    Ben, no there is not any solution that I have or know, sometimes it happened the same
    to me.

    My best dear Ben, so Chinese has commas, good and Japanese? is there
    some one to inform us, or me?

    Bye, emiliano

  18. emiliano says:

    Ben, I asked you for because now it is frequently that with the help of
    a translator that I have in the gatufo´s blog I have translate some of
    the notes to Chinese, beside Coreano and Japanese.
    Of course I don´t know how the translation is, but sure that is very
    Nevertheless there is a lot of people from Corea, and Russia that
    follows the blog. Not so many from Chines or Japan, I think because
    the translation it has to be absolutetly bad, sure it has to be, but I
    don´t know.
    Just a pity not to know these other several language.

    Thanks Ben.

  19. Betty says:

    Hi Ben

    It’s very nice of you to try to explain to us that Chinese uses commas like English.

    If we write Chinese in this blog, the system changes them to question marks because it doesn’t understand Chinese words.

    However, I think I can guess what you are trying to say. In Chinese we will say what we are going to eat in stead of just say “eat”. So in Chinese we say “eat rice” or “eat noodle” etc.

    By the way, I think I learned in my secondary school that human beings’ body will reject human beings’ flesh. We will soon die if we eat human. Is it true? Might be I need to search the Internet to see if I can find an answer.

    Best Regards

    Betty 🙂

  20. emiliano says:

    Hi Dan, I don´t know who is behind reading the notes, may be Jessica, are you Jessica?
    I think Dan has to grateful to you because Jessica or which ever other person behind
    have deleted what I said to you Dan.

    So, now I have to mail you, by private way, to say you what Jessica had deleted.

    Good Jessica, you look for good relations between us.
    Don´t warry please, Dan and me have enough confiance to say each other what
    we said, but of course this is public site and its better to show our good face.

    Dan, you are saved by Jessica, ja,ja, it has bee really good dear Dan.
    First time that at Emiliano here in the blog deleted some of his notes.

    That great and it gives me pleasure.
    Now Dan you never could know what I said to you in reply your nice joking

    Bye dear Dan, if you want to know aske me by mail and I´ll think about

    Thanks Betty, your are always alert to reply.
    Better that you don´t see the wrong side of Emiliano, good Jesica.
    Greetings specially to you dear, what a big dilema to have the two notes on
    your responsability and having to delet them at the end.

    Don´t worry please, it has been absolutely amusing to me waiting to be
    aproved and at the end. NO. Dan you are a lucky boy after all, my friend.

    jaja, first time deleted……Good, thanks a lot dear Jessica if has been
    you. Seriously now thanks and don´t worry my good name it is saved.



  21. schliemann says:

    hi Emiliano,

    i am trying to learn Japanese, and it seems that it doesn’t use comma. It uses ?instead. In Chinese, we use ?instead of comma when listing things. For instance, in English we will write “apple, pear and banana”, but in Chinese it is written like ” apple?pear and banana”.



  22. schliemann says:

    Oh, come on. Even the punctuation is distorted to a question mark…
    by the way, the punctuation mentioned in last post is called “pause mark” in Chinese

  23. Ben says:

    Hi Emiliano.
    I am so sorry that this reply is pretty late.I am busy with my work these days.
    I cannot answer your questions about Japanese since I am Chinese.
    I have been practicing my English these days and I am looking forward to speaking English fluently and listening to English with no difficulty.
    You know,we Chinese now value English a lot.As I was in secondary school,I began to study English.And now I have studied this language for more than ten years.Unfortunately,until now
    it is pretty hard for me to communicate with a foreigner or read a English novel.
    Therefore,it seems to me that many of us have actully got a wrong way to study English in school.Our English teachers always focus on the grammar,on the exams.And we seldom got oppotunities to use English,like speaking to each other,or writing something to express our feelings.
    But now,I came across this web site by chance and the friends like you,from all over the world.
    And I really find that what the point is to study English and I enjoy communicating here.
    Thanks emiliano

  24. Ben says:

    Nice meeting you.Are you a Chinese as well?
    emiliano say there are not so many people from China.But I guess there have been already two here—-you and me.

  25. emiliano says:

    More or less like here in Spain dear Ben.

    English has been teached really very bad.
    Too much grama, gramma helpes but children start to speak their own laguage, mother´s language
    without knowing a single rule of gramma.
    Even children could read aloud sinple books without gramma.

    Too much gramma always, without talking or Reading, why is it teached a language with so much
    By thousand of years people have spoken their own language without knowing a single rule of gramma,
    even without knowing how to write or to read.
    It is so absurd the teaching in the majority of countries of a language different from their own, that
    thinking cold about it is like crazy.
    When I was a father, my Little daughter Eva started to talk her mother´s language at the same time
    than words in English. It was my task to do it, and after my other two daughter followed this way.
    For four of five years I was teaching them English being children, how to form phrase a childred say
    how to write single exercises, some dictation and nearly nothiong about gramma because they knew
    nothing about Spanish gramar either.

    After that, four or five years taking with Emiliano the three children have not ever any problems with the
    English language at the school or the university. In fact now they know English even better than me, or
    at least Laura, living in Denmark, and Fátima living in Madrid.
    Eva also speaks English quite well. The teaching method it is so important that if you learn a language
    the wrong way it is very difficult to learn it the right form afterward.
    Yes, I know that because some how I have teached also the language to some friends who learn it
    very badly.

    Dear Ben, I was taling about my own blog, not ESL blog, I said China it is a country with more than a thousand
    millions of people and they don´t read me very much.
    EE.UU., it is the firs, Russia is the second, my own Spain the third, and so forth.
    There is a lot of desembuches “gatufo blog” followers in Korea eithe in Japan.
    Why is that?. I don´t really know, but it is a pity.
    One my best friends here it is Betty of course, and she is from China, Hong Kong, so nice Betty that I
    would like to know personally.
    Who knows, may be next trip of Emiliano could to to Hong Kong? ja,ja, it si posible

    Bye Ben. Thanks a lot dear and try to read desembuches gatufo blog, some anotes re in English too,
    beside chenese.


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