Punctuation. Potatoes. Million Pound Losses.

My Potato has 47 Bottoms today. I mean – My Father is 47 today.

So yes, punctuation.

The English language uses commas, but people who speak and write English seem to find it problematical. Doesn’t usually cost them millions, mind. But it sometimes does.

Sometime I think the correct use of punctuation is something we shy away from even when we know how to do it. There are people who don’t understand our pain in reading at the roadside “Steep Descent HGV’s Please Use Low Gear”. They say “Get a Life” if we say “HGV’s What?” – So we sometimes just wince internally.

But – Garages offering MOT’s. Shops selling DVD’s. Really?

“If you still persist in writing, “Good food at it’s best”, you deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave.”
― Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.

Anyway, those chaps are apostrophes, back to the commas.

It’s teatime, so “Let’s Eat Mother”.

If I am correct when I write to Louise, “For Breakfast I like eggs, Louise” then presumably if I say “For breakfast I like eggs, toast and marmalade” I am writing to the toast and marmalade.

That is where the Oxford comma comes into its own, and the exception to the rule that a comma should not be written before the word “and”.

If I was in fact writing to say what I like for breakfast, I should write “For breakfast I like eggs, toast, and marmalade.”

But you knew that, of course.

In my continued quest to bring you news from years ago, here is a Canadian case – link here – where the Courts had to interpret the meaning of this clause.

“This Agreement shall be effective from the date it is made and shall continue in force for a period of five (5) years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five (5) year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.”

What then happened was that, early in the term and well within the first five years, one party served a year’s notice to terminate.

The Court found that the notice was valid to terminate the contract.

Because, there was a comma before the word “unless”. It found that the comma operated to close the part of the sentence which dealt with five-year terms. It found that the comma acted as if to put parentheses around the whole of the wording relating to five years – so that it meant “This Agreement shall be effective from the date it is made and shall continue in force (for a period of five (5) years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five (5) year terms) unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.”

It was only when the appeal court was persuaded to read the French translation of the contract also used by the issuing Company when it dealt with parties in the French language Province of Quebec, that it overturned that decision.

The French text said
“Sous réserve des dispositions relatives à la résiliation du présent contrat, ce dernier prend effet à la date de signature. Il demeure en vigueur pour une période de cinq (5) ans, à partir de la date de la signature et il est subséquemment renouvelé pour des périodes successives de cinq (5) années, à moins d’un préavis écrit de résiliation à l’autre partie un an avant l’expiration du contrat.”

And I have put those words into Google, and it has come up with a clearer translation that the actual English words used!

Clearly, in French text, the notice must be served one year before the contract would other expire/come up for renewal. So, no notice could be effective which expired within the first five years.

And if there had been no comma in the English text contract, that is what the English text would have meant.

But there was, so it didn’t!

As I said, that case is old news, ten years in fact. So lawyers around the world have learnt from it?

Not so much, if this case – Link here – from March 2017 is any guide. It’s the Oxford comma again, or rather the lack of it.

In this case a contract made it clear – or in fact, failed to make it clear – that no overtime money would be due to drivers for their work in:-

“The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:
“(1) Agricultural produce
“(2) Meat and fish products
“(3) Perishable foods.”

The Drivers successfully sued for overtime for time spent in distribution. That is, for the time spent in driving their Lorries. [As opposed to merely the time spent in packing for distribution. Which is, loading their Lorries.]

They were successful because there was no Oxford comma in front of the word “or”.

No overtime would have been payable, of course, if the clause had said
“The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment, or distribution of:
“(1) Agricultural produce
“(2) Meat and fish products
“(3) Perishable foods.”

The cost of the missing comma is believed to be in the region of US$10 million.

Moral for Lawyers? Use lists, and where necessary the Oxford comma by all means in your legal drafting, but perhaps, if you don’t understand how they work, then don’t.

Excluding Greengrocers, obviously. You can carry on.

And truly, I did once meet a client who left me a self-addressed envelope for the return of his papers.

According to him, he lives in Leed’s.

And, turns out, he has a fruit and veg. shop.

And my Potato? That’s Spanish. The Spanish for “My father is 47 today” is apparently “Mi papá tiene 47 años hoy”

Contrast and compare – “Mi papa tiene 47 anos hoy”.

Can that be true?

Only one song will do – Link Here –

As ever, for documents for use around the world do contact me or Louise here at AtkinsonNotary E7 Joseph’s Well Leeds LS3 1AB, phone 0113 8160116 and email notary@atkinsonnotary.com or via the website http://www.atkinsonnotary.com