Where Punctuation Fears To Go


This article appeared on the BBC News website a week ago. It’s actually a very hopeful story, but I had to read, read and re-read the headline before I could make sense of it:

Wearable Tech Aids Stroke Patients

WHAT! I thought – when we’re under the weather are our FitBits getting a bit too up close and personal? Am I in danger of being fondled by a pair of headphones? Will those virtual reality headsets start kissing their wearers? Thankfully, [or maybe not, depending on your viewpoint?] no – well not yet it seems. The above headline is a classic example of ambiguity at its best. The wearable tech aids in question have not been stroking people lying in hospital beds – but wearable tech has been aiding patients recovering from a stroke.

Usually, a well-placed punctuation mark can make all the difference between two similarly worded sentences; for instance:

Let’s eat Grandma  –  Let’s eat, Grandma.

In cases such as the over-friendly tech aids, however, there is actually nowhere a comma or other helpful punctuation mark could have been inserted – the whole ambiguity is down to the actual words used. The problem the writer did not realise is that aids can be a noun or a verb – similarly stroke can be a verb or a noun. Were this particular sentence read aloud, the whole misunderstanding would be cleared up by intonation – try it yourself and see. A stress on the word aids gives a very different meaning to a stress on the word stroke.

Later on, I must mention, the headline had been changed to the clearer, but much less amusing:

Wearable tech could help stroke patients with recovery

I couldn’t help wondering who had noticed the problem with the first one and spoiled my fun!


The Perils of Being a Proofreader


This is just a quick outlet of steam, rage and annoyance at myself; not to mention a plea for understanding. Yes, I am a proofreader – I also write bespoke poems, edit books and do English tuition but that’s another story.

Anyway, I have just, after a long afternoon’s proofreading, been sending a few messages on Facebook. I have used words such as mdae for madedoen a drqaft for done a draft, and typed, in an apology/explanation for these said typos, that I must be going croww-eyed instead of cross-eyed.

A huge problem when you make laughable claims to be good at English, is that everyone seems to be watching you like a hawk for whenever you do make a spelling or punctuation error. What people often don’t understand, though, is that there is a world of difference between bashing out words onto Facebook without even looking at the screen before pressing ‘enter’ and carefully reading somebody else’s work to check for their mistakes.

I am human; I am fallible; I make typos! The main thing to remember though, is that when I am reading other people’s work I can spot them and know how to correct them – when I am simply ranting on Social Media my fingers go faster than my brain. So, please, think of the dilemma of the proofreader – even we can get our fingers in a twist when writing in a hurry – but we take our time and check your work very, very carefully indeed.

The Punctuation of Pretzels


The following story appeared in my Google Alerts update this week, and – after careful consideration – I decided I just had to throw in my two-penn’orth.


Basically, a columnist wants the company to remove the apostrophe from their sign. On the face of it, I agreed at first, but then realised it wasn’t quite as clear-cut as it seems.

How many boys are there? That must be the nub of the question. If there are more than one, then – yes – the apostrophe needs some amendment. But…should it be removed altogether or simply placed after the word boys?

This establishment could be one, singular, boy’s shop. It could be several, plural, boys’ shop. Or, Pretzel Boys could simply be the title of the business.

Think of The Fabulous Bakin’ Boys. bakin20boys

This is the company’s name – ok, they have an apostrophe elsewhere – we’ll not go there in this post!

But, maybe we’ll leave the last word to Sainsbury’s, and their response to Mr M. He asked them why their name has an apostrophe – read their reply here:




Ice Cream or Custard with your Question Mark?


How important is a question mark.

How important is a question mark?

It’s the difference between a statement and a question, that’s how important it is. This became very apparent during a text conversation about that most vital of subjects – PUDDING. The first sentence above is a declarative statement, the second is, undoubtedly, a question. It has a question mark – that’s the give-away!

So, how did this topic become embroiled in a discussion of pudding? Easy, due to the lack of this clever little punctuation mark, two of us both thought the other had got it sorted.

S: [She’s blonde so will remain quite anonymous for her own dignity]

Got pudding sorted for Sunday

Me: [ Noting the absolute lack of any helpful punctuation to the contrary]



Me: See you then

End of conversation. ‘S’ and her family were coming to mine on the Sunday and I had mentioned a few days earlier that I still hadn’t decided what to do for afters. I took her text as a statement [no question mark, none whatsoever m’lud] and thought to myself ‘Well, that’s nice of her, she’s bringing something, saves me the bother’.

Sunday comes, they turn up. I have dinner cooking in the oven, and look at her expectantly to see what she’s brought. ‘Pudding?’ I ask, realising there are no carrier bags, cake boxes or other such potential containers of yumminess. ‘You said you’d sorted it.’ she replied. ‘No,’ says I, ‘you said you had’. I then show her exhibit 1, the text.

‘I was asking you if you’d sorted it!’ she explained, looking quite bemused that I could possibly have misunderstood.

‘Where’s the question mark then?’ I asked.

‘Oh Mother!’ she replied, exasperated ‘ you and your grammar’.

But, the lack of punctuation meant a lack of pudding. Try telling that to two small boys.

Custard with your punctuation anybody?

* Thankfully there’s a shop just round the corner, so all was not lost. The picture? They are the ice cream cones we had in Paris, just thought I’d brag a bit!

Untitled post about the site title

Hmmm. So, WordPress, we’re definitely off to a shaky start.  You want a Site Title, but won’t let me enter one……..the gloves are hereby well and truly off.

One thing I have learnt about myself is that I hate giving in without a humdinger of a fight [do NOT get me going on my battle to renew my bus pass*]. So, I declare before the company of viewers heretofore assembled [did that sound assertive and official enough, do you think?] that I will, one fine day, give this site a title.

For the moment, though, I thought I would open this titling business up to suggestions…….go on, folk, do your worst. The winner will be rewarded by having a suitable poem written in their [dis]honour.

In the meantime, here’s a little ode to Ikea, just because.

Oh Swedish goddess of design

Let me enter thy portals, I am thine.

Thy strange green plastic shapes – I crave.

About thy flat-packed wares, I rave.

I bought a Kornik and a Borp,

A Kvestur and a Torrigtorp.

I packed them happily in the car

[but haven’t the faintest what they are].

Once home, I gloat with utmost bliss, but…

Ah. There’s something quite amiss.

Oh Swedish goddess of cruelty

You forgot to include an Allen key.