Opinion:

Anant’s Blog: Of Commas, Pauses And Laziness

Anant Rangaswami, November 22, 2018

Let's talk about some complex punctuation. One is the ‘visual’ punctuation and one that suffers in translation from the written form to the spoken form.

Every now and then, I rant on Facebook about a howler that I spot in newspaper headlines or ads in newspapers or magazines.

I don’t rant about howlers that I spot on feeds of friends or on ‘amateur’ media, such as a blog.

There’s a simple reason why: the howlers seen in editorial or in ads are written by people paid to write, checked by people paid to check and approved by people paid to approve. When there are so many professionals involved, the howler becomes close to unforgivable.

Most of the time, the howlers are black and white and readers agree with me. Once in a while, the ‘issue’ is debatable – and is debated. Most of the debates focus on issues of grammar, most of which, in turn, focus on punctuation.

This post is not about howlers. Not strictly, that is.

However, it is about some complex punctuation. One is the ‘visual’ punctuation and one that suffers in translation from the written form to the spoken form.

I open the Times of India this morning and see this on the front page:

Try as I might, I cannot read the name of the property as Puraniks City, Neral – which is what the ad wants me to do.

Because of the art of the ad, I repeatedly read it as Puraniks, City, Neral.

While every single reader will not interpret the art as I did, many will.

And many would have seen this ad in various stages and iterations before the ad was printed in this morning’s paper – and many would have made the same visual pauses that I made when I read this ad.

What were the options? Could ‘Puraniks City’ have been on one line and ‘Neral’ on the next? Could ‘Puraniks City’ AND ‘Neral’ been on the same line with a comma between the two elements so as to urge me to read ‘Puraniks City, Neral’, with a pause between City and Neral?

 

Your views?

 

Let’s move on.

 

Last night, I saw this ad for McDonald’s:

 

 

I half-watch the ad, as I’m multitasking, reading at the same time.

But my ears pick this up: “starting at rupees fifty-nine”.

And the words jar.

No one says ‘rupees fifty-nine’. NO ONE.

People say, ‘fifty-nine rupees’.

 

So how does this happen? How come ALL the people connected with the ad, all of whom would certainly SAY ‘fifty-nine rupees’ ignore the voice-over that says ‘rupees fifty-nine’?

 

It’s absolute carelessness. In the script for the VO artist, in all likelihood, the words were written thus: Rs. 59.

And, as is the case in hundreds of voice-overs in hundreds of ads, someone mechanically reads the words in the physical manner in which the words present themselves: rupees first, followed by 59.

And all those around mechanically ignore the jarring in their ears.

 

If I had rupees one hundred for each time I saw something like this, I’d be a rich man.