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15th Oct 2016

One woman has summed up the stark difference between Trump and Clinton with one tweet

Eats shoots and leaves

Nooruddean Choudry

‘Eats, shoots and leaves.’

As well as being the title of a best-selling book by Lynne Truss, it is a famous example of how punctuation can dramatically alter the meaning of a sentence. Without the comma, ‘Eats shoots and leaves’ could be referring to the everyday habits of your average cuddly panda. With the comma, ‘Eats, shoots and leaves’ sounds more like the clinical actions of a murderous (and hungry) assassin.

Another example that the grammar police are particularly fond of is the famous line: ‘Helping your Uncle Jack off a horse’. With the capital J it simply refers to a chivalrous act towards your mother/father’s brother. However, if you replace the proper noun ‘Jack’ with the verb that ‘jack’ becomes, and the whole affair becomes decidedly more unsavoury and bestial. We’ll go no further with that one.

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Washington DC resident Rebecca Piazza has come up with a clever and depressingly relevant example that refers to the US Presidential election, and more specifically the recent controversies surrounding Donald Trump’s treatment and attitude towards women. She shows how a simple change in punctuation can make an empowering phrase into one that promotes misogyny.

The first example is: ‘To women: You can do anything’. Piazza attributes this sentiment to Clinton, who would be the first female President of the United States of America. But if you replace the colon with a comma, the phrase becomes: ‘To women, you can do anything’. It is an attitude of objectification and dehumanisation that is more befitting of Trump’s vile words and alleged actions.

A simple and sobering tribute to the power of grammar.