Article Date: 11/1/2004

lessons learned
English Class Revisited
Who says punctuation is boring?
By Jack Runniger, O.D.

I never thought I'd see the day when a book on proper punctuation made the best seller's list. But that's precisely what has taken place with the book Eats, Shoots & Leaves. The author says she got the book title from the following story:

A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

"Why?" asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

"I'm a panda," he says, at the door. "Look it up."

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

"PANDA. Large black and white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves."

Conveying your message

This story and the book illustrate the importance of proper punctuation in making certain you're conveying your intended message to your patients and staff -- not only in written communication, but also in verbal communication, by putting "punctuational pauses" in the proper spot. Examples from the book:

► "The pickled herring merchant." Undoubtedly meant to describe a merchant who sells pickled herring. However, without the properly placed punctuational pause, it comes off as a herring merchant who has been imbibing too freely.

► "A fine tooth comb." Does the "tooth" refer to the comb, or is this a "fine" new instrument for combing your teeth?

► "Leonora walked on her head, a little higher than usual." I guess you'd have to be a little "high" to walk around on your head.


Ladies of the night

An instance of punctuation-caused miscommunication took place at my church board meeting relative to a ladies' circle that met at night.

"The ladies of the night circle will meet next Thursday at 7:30," said the chairwoman of the circle.

I couldn't resist commenting, "I knew we were active in community welfare, but this is the first time I had heard that we have a circle for 'ladies of the night.'" The lady didn't seem to think it was funny, but the rest of the board did.

Some other examples:

► "Slow children at play," read a sign at my tennis club's parking lot. Evidently some of the members objected to their children being labeled as "slow." Soon after, I noted that the sign had been changed to read, "Slow. Children at play."

► "I resent my original message," read a recent e-mail message I received from a friend. Took me a while to realize that rather than being disgruntled with his original message, what he probably meant was that he had sent his original message again.

Almost doesn't count

Another story illustrates how the absence of a pause in the right place can convey a completely opposite message:

An 85-year-old couple married and went on a two-week honeymoon. "How was it?" inquired a friend of the bride on her return.

"We had a good time," replied the bride.

"That's not what I meant," said the friend. "What I meant was how often did you make love?"

"Almost every night," the bride answered.


"Yes. Almost on Monday night, almost on Tuesday night, almost on Wednesday night . . . ."

Jack Runniger, our consulting editor, lives in Rome, GA.  He's also a past editor of OM. Contact him at


Optometric Management, Issue: November 2004