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The devil is in the commas….like usual

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While Laura is off and out, I’ve come out of the lurker’s shadows to keep the blog home fires burning. Today, a note on commas and legal writing.

While trying to find justification for uses of the comma in web copy without resorting to ranting and raving, I started with my old trusty print copy of the Chicago Manual of Style. I found the answer I needed, but I couldn’t resist checking the Web for other examples, and ran across the Q & A section of the Manual’s website, which has a few choice items on commas, including:

HELP! I’m arguing with a contract lawyer over this sentence which points to a great clip on a facet of plain language and the Law, “Down with Provided That” from the Michigan Bar Journal. Lawyers fall prey to the same errors and obfuscations that ordinary mortals do, but I think it’s safe to say that their slips of the comma may effect the wallet more than others.

So, be careful out there: commas and their brethren are not as benign as we’d like to believe. Take for example, what could happen if you followed this sign’s lead?

PRIVATE PROPERTY? NO. HUNTING ALLOWED.
(punctuation added in felt pen)

— thanks to JC for the sign, and the Electric Company, you know why