Punctuation’s future

Much that is written on social media etc is casual and informal, effectively speech transmitted by a recording system – messaging. During a telephone call you can ask for immediate clarification if you do not understand something. When you are messaging it’s nearly as easy to ask for clarification.

However, when we read contracts, reports, opinions and explanations it may not be possible to ask the writer just exactly what they meant; they might be dead or they might just not have a signal. With this sort of writing it is crucial then to write clearly. This section of a commercial contract contains a second, unnecessary comma which allowed one party to the contract to pull out after only one year at a cost of millions of dollars to the other party who could do nothing. Without the second comma this would have been impossible.

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’s prior notice in writing by either party.

Imagine needing to drive fast on a winding, single-carriageway road. How  much more difficult would it be without a line to  keep you away from oncoming traffic, chevrons as you approach a sharp bend and other signs to warn you of approaching hazards, a hump-back bridge for example?

Try reading the following paragraph without its road signs; read it aloud and as fast as you can.

Although it was not clear he perhaps too readily thought that this was his aunt the one who was going to leave him a not inconsiderable part of the money he so badly needed she might leave him out of her will this would be bad news news that could return him to that sense of desperation what could he do help he called to his sister the old girls still not sure what to do don’t worry Ill sort her out stella replied.                 

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