Friday, August 05, 2022

Why punctuation matters

Punctuation can make a crucial difference to the meaning of a sentence. There are well-known examples out there, but I just came across a possible example 'in the wild' as it were.

Football commentator Martin Tyler has recently apologised for remarks he made about the Hillsborough disaster in a 1992 interview. He's quoted by the BBC as referring to "Hillsborough and other hooligan-related issues". The problem with this, of course, is that the reference to other hooligan-related issues implies that Hillsborough was also hooligan-related.

However, without having heard the original interview, it's not clear to me whether this is a fair - or charitable - way to interpret his remarks. The spoken word lacks explicit punctuation, but he might have meant "Hillsborough and other, hooligan-related, issues". In this case, he would be saying that there were other issues, besides Hillsborough, and these other issues were hooligan-related, but not being implying that Hillsborough itself was hooligan-related.

An apology may be warranted anyway, since even saying something that could be misconstrued may be insensitive to families of the victims. I don't want to get drawn into the specifics of the case. I just thought this a good example of how commas can change the meaning of a sentence.

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