Monday, January 11, 2010

A misplaced comma can lead to grief and then litigation

Here are a couple of stories from Ken Adams' blog on contracts, which has been recognized for excellence by the online ABA Journal, about how a misplaced comma can materially change the meaning of a document.  The first example involves a misplaced comma in the bankruptcy code which has turned into a disputed issue in the bankruptcy filing of two Philadelphia newspapers. The ruling from the Third Circuit is pending.  

The second example involves a contentious comma inserted into a United Nations global climate plan that's caused consternation among many delegates:

The Bali paragraph says treaty talks should yield “nationally appropriate” actions by developing countries to curb emissions “in the context of sustainable development, supported and enabled by technology, financing and capacity- building, in a measurable, reportable and verifiable manner.”

The comma after “building” was dropped and then reinserted at the Bush administration’s insistence.

Delegates from the U.S. argued for the comma to be inserted so that “actions” by developing countries and not just support from industrialized nations, would be measurable, reportable and verifiable, or MRV in UN jargon.

“It took almost two hours to debate the comma,” Quamrul Chowdhury, a Bangladeshi envoy who’s negotiated climate issues since before the Rio Earth summit in 1992, said in an interview in Copenhagen. “One comma creates a lot of trouble.”

You can read the rest of Ken Adams' coverage here, more detailed discussion of the Philadelphia comma dust-up here on the Language Log and more on the international comma crisis at here.

I am the scholarship dude.


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