Clyde Andrews writes about...
And contributors wonder why Bewildering Stories gets on their case about punctuation. Just be glad we don’t play for such high stakes.
Punctuation Challenge: the contract that Clyde quotes actually contains two errors. Can you spot them? Answer at the end.
Comma Quirks Irks Rogers Cable.
A small error in punctuation on a legal contract could be the most costly in Canadian history. Not only has it caused an eighteen-month debate, but it has also highlighted the importance of punctuation, even in these modern times we live in.
Aliant Inc. was contracted for five years to string Rogers’ cable lines in the Maritime provinces at a cost of $9.60 per pole. One year into the deal and Aliant Inc. pulled the pin.
Now, this made Rogers question why. The deal was for five years. What were they playing at?
Aliant Inc. highlighted a clause in the so-called “binding” contract. Language buffs take note; page 7 of the contract states:
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.”
Now, the comma in question, and the one that has been the centre of debate for all this time, is the second comma in the above clause. As it reads, Aliant Inc. is well within its rights to cancel the contract after one year. Not after five, as Rogers had first thought.
Oh, dear. Looks like Rogers Cable will now have to pay over $28.00 per pole if they want the job finished. A grand total of $2.13 million extra. Ouch!
Copyright © 2006 by Clyde Andrews
Some of our contributors sprinkle commas with carefree abandon; some are practically tightwads with them. Although Jerry does string cable of a sort, we at Bewildering Stories do not practice law; and yet we tend to keep a close watch on everybody’s commas.
The answer to the punctuation Challenge: neither comma is correct. Delete them both.
Two commas make “and thereafter for successive five year terms” a parenthetical phrase. And that makes the sentence say exactly what Rogers Cable didn’t want: “The agreement shall continue in force for a period of five years from the date it is made [...] unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.”
If the second comma is deleted, the first becomes superfluous. It would make a “comma splice,” because “unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party” does not contain a complete verb and is therefore not a clause. Say what?
Shaky grammar can be costly, all right. Watchit!