Comma Crusader Brings Good Grammar to Traffic Court and Wins

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Grammar nerds are a committed league who often fight the good fight in the hope of seeing their victories spelled out on the page. But every once in a while, the consequences of proper punctuation leap from 2-D print into 3-D courtroom drama. (Insert Law & Order sound effects.)

In 2014, Andrea Cammelleri was ticketed for a pretty run-of-the-mill offense: leaving her pickup truck parked on a street for too long. Specifically, the village ordinance in West Jefferson, Ohio said it was against the law to park “any motor vehicle camper, trailer, farm implement and/or non-motorized vehicle” longer than 24 hours.

That language is pretty cut and dry, but upon closer reading, you might notice something fishy. Cammelleri did. At her trial, the defendant argued “the ordinance did not apply because the language prohibits a motor vehicle camper from being parked on the street for an extended period of time.”

Cammelleri doesn’t have a “motor vehicle camper” because, well, what the heck is a motor vehicle camper? The ordinance should have read “motor vehicle, camper…”

The court argued that anyone reading the ordinance would know that it was a typo and simply missing a comma. Cammelleri was convicted, but she wasn’t done with her punctuation crusade. She filed an appeal.

This time, the scales of justice went the way the grammar gods would want. In his ruling, 12th District Court of Appeals Judge Robert A. Hendrickson wrote, “By utilizing rules of grammar and employing the common meaning of terms, 'motor vehicle camper' has a clear definition that does not produce an absurd result. If the village desires a different reading, it should amend the ordinance and insert a comma between the phrase ‘motor vehicle’ and the word ‘camper.’”

Whether it was a clever trick to get out of a pesky parking citation, or an earnest quest to right this world’s comma crimes, Cammelleri illustrated why proper punctuation shouldn’t be just a matter of style—it should be the law of the land.

Farther vs. Further: There’s an Easy Way to Remember the Difference, and When to Use Which

imtmphoto/iStock via Getty Images
imtmphoto/iStock via Getty Images

Even for native speakers, the English language is full of booby traps. That's why people are so hesitant to use whom instead of who, and why thinking about the differences between lay and lie is enough to give professional linguists a headache. One of the more common pitfalls is further vs. farther: Both words describe similar situations, and there's only one letter separating them. Though they're often used interchangeably, there is a difference between further and farther, and luckily for anyone who struggles with grammar, there's an easy trick to remember what it is.

Further and farther are both used in relation to progress, but the type of progress they describe differs. According to Quick and Dirty Tips, farther is reserved for physical distance, i.e. "the runner was farther down the track than his competitor," while further is used for figurative or metaphorical scenarios, such as "the senator was interrupted before she could go further in her speech."

The best way to remember this is to look at the first three letters of the words. Farther starts with far, a word that's associated with physical distance. This can remind you to use farther when describing things like car trips and walks, and save further for concepts like projects, movies, and dreams.

This distinction is clear enough, but things can get sticky when it's not totally obvious if a statement is dealing with physical or metaphorical distance. Take the sentence "the writer had gotten farther in her poem by the afternoon" as an example. If the progress being referred to is lines on a page, farther works just fine, but if the speaker is talking about the poem as a piece of art, further may be more more appropriate. In such instances, it's usually safest to default to further: Usage for farther is slightly stricter, and because further deals with situations that are already hard to define, you can get away with using it in more contexts. And if you still get them mixed up, don't let it bother you too much. Merriam-Webster notes that great writers have been using farther and further interchangeably for centuries.

[h/t Quick and Dirty Tips]

A Simple Trick for Remembering When To Use Who vs. Whom

g-stockstudio/iStock via Getty Images
g-stockstudio/iStock via Getty Images

In casual messages with friends or water cooler conversations with colleagues, it might not seem particularly important to use perfect grammar—and saying whom can sometimes make an exchange seem formal in a way that doesn’t match the situation. But there are still plenty of instances when perfect grammar is necessary, like emails to the CEO of your company, published works, or telephone talks with your persnickety relatives.

For those times, Lifehacker has a nifty mnemonic device to help you remember when to use who vs. whom. In short, mentally swap out the who or whom in your sentence with he or him. If he sounds right, you should use who. If him is the obvious winner, go with whom.

This works because who and he are both subjective pronouns; that is, you use them to refer to the subject of the sentence. In “Who let the dogs out?”, the subject of the question is the person letting the dogs out. If you replace who with he there, you get an equally intelligible sentence: “He let the dogs out.” Neither whom nor him would work, because they’re both objective pronouns—you substitute them for the noun that receives the action of the sentence. Since you wouldn’t say “Him let the dogs out,” you shouldn’t say “Whom let the dogs out.”

In the sentence “Whom will you invite to dinner?”, you is the subject, and the person you invites to dinner is the object. Just like in the first example, it’s easier to discern whether he or him works if you rephrase the question as a statement. “You will invite him to dinner” sounds fine (if a little bossy), while “You will invite he to dinner” frankly sounds hilarious.

You can definitely substitute who and whom with other pronoun combinations like she and her or they and them if you’d rather, but the reason he and him work so well is because they sound similar to who and whom—the only aural differences are the vowels.

As a consolation prize for the hassle of having to think about who vs. whom, here’s a grammar rule you probably use correctly every day without even realizing it.

[h/t Lifehacker]

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