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The Law Is An Apostrophe

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AgentPete

Capo Famiglia
Guardian
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I’m always nervous when lawyers and judges are asked to rule on matters for which they have no natural expertise or inclination. The McLibel trial was one such instance: the sciences of nutrition, ecology and ethology were all used as legal blunt instruments by a despotic corporation bent on eradicating its critics. The judge no doubt did his best under the circumstances, but it was a depressing and morally corrupt experience and science was not well served.

So it is today we learn that the English judiciary has determined that “excessive” punctuation is “unnecessarily aggressive”. The case is one of unfair dismissal: Dr Binoy Sobnack, a hapless physics lecturer at the University of Loughborough in the UK, was accused of creating an “intimidating tone” with his use of “multiple punctuation marks”. For which he got the boot.

Judge Richard Adkinson, who I have no hesitation whatsoever in calling a complete apostrophe, agreed, writing: “The use of multiple exclamation or question marks could well change or influence how a recipient might perceive a text message, and might make an otherwise neutral text appear aggressive, intimidating or suggesting disbelief.”.

M’learned friend raises many thorny issues for we pen-pushers.

Exclamation marks in book titles have long been discouraged by publishers, although I’ve always had a secret fondness for them. But now, with the full force of the law against us in addition to publishers’ disfavour, no wordsmith in their right mind will dare to include a screamer in the title. Case law is against us now; and you could be looking at ten years in the grammar slammer without the possibility of parole. (No matter how polished your paroles may be).

We’ve always known that the pen is mightier than the sword, but today’s ruling enables us to take that concept a stage further. The semicolon is now evidently mightier than the Smith & Wesson.44 Magnum.

The use of dangerous punctuation is clearly in desperate need of urgent legal regulation. Excessive exclamation marks must be expunged (clamoribus delenda est). Quarrelsome question marks require quelling. And as for the interobang… well, just forget it!!!???
 

Jonny

Staff member
Guardian
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Wow! That is really something. Not even a hint of irony from our learned friend, then? Just beggars belief.

This handed down from a member of a profession that uses a brand of overinflated, highfalutin and often impenetrably arcane argot, designed to bamboozle and intimidate ‘ordinary people’.

An old boys club, the members of which bedeck themselves in ludicrously archaic wigs and gowns; garb designed to wrong-foot the layman and to assist these rarified clowns in lording it over the plebs and scumbags.

Arrogance and a sense of pompous entitlement on an industrial scale. You couldn’t make it up.
 

Katie-Ellen

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Really interesting. I read here he is still teaching but was removed from his role as warden of halls. I often think the Law is an ass, and my first thought was, someone could just have taken him to one side and asked nicely. But it is explained here that someone did, and he apparently took no notice. I don't think the Law has been a total ass in making something of a test case point here, given the reach of online social media, about his choice of language as an instrument of power in the workplace where people cannot simply choose to avoid him.

This is a discussion about tone. Language matters. Words count and tone matters a very great deal. And tone can be tricky to convey in writing and needs extra care, and apostrophes are a tool of precision.

It says he was removed as warden for sending shouty texts to young junior colleagues, basically, for being a bully. I would not expect to receive such texts as these I've been reading here. They are definitely meant to be read as a dressing down. If I knew him well, and we were on good terms then, yes, I might just laugh to myself and say, there he goes again, but if not, I'd be itching to give him a smack in his obnoxious shouty chops.

There again, English is not his first language. Though neither may it be the first language of the colleague who spoke to him about this back in 2020 after complaints going back to 2018. A young sub-warden had approached him with concerns about the welfare of a particular student. He did the shouty thing, and said it was a pastoral matter. But a warden has a pastoral role, concomitant on building safety and security.

Maybe it's like going to Italy, the way people fling their arms about, shouting on the street. But they're not necessarily fighting. Though maybe they are. I once saw a couple arguing with a policeman. All of them shouting, three sets of arms going like windmills. Then at the end, they all flung up their arms, whether in disgust or resignation, and the policeman walked away. So funny :) At least, watching from the sidelines. But there it is. Tone can be tricky

Thinking of some deeply disturbing events in Halls my own younger daughter's first year - and the warden's and Uni's inadequate handling- the warden of a student Hall of residence has simply GOT to be approachable. This gentleman was anything but, based on those texts. The Law has accorded him the win. It's on him to tone it down now, innit. And be civil to young student colleagues who are his acting juniors on the ground. And show proper care for the students. God knows they are getting into enough debt, in helping pay his salary.

As for writers, wordsmiths know full well the power and meaning of Punctuation. Punctuation has a point. That is the whole point. Exclamations have a place. Where would advertising be without them. But the point this judge is making is clarity counts, manners matter. This person was using it as a blunt instrument, to give him full benefit of the doubt. Or else wielding it as a bludgeon, expressing exasperation as a fly swat to deter his young colleagues from 'pestering' him.
 

J Babo

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An ! is a circumcised l - perhaps that's what makes it aggressive? It certainly justifies screaming ...

My PhD supervisor used a lot of exclamation marks in his comments. At first, it made me feel like shit, until I realised it was just an habit and meant little.

Not sure if this is the same, but seriously doubt that he would have had any issues over only messages. If he was a nice, polite guy in person and then sent 50 exclamations marks with his texts, I cannot believe anyone would have cared.

If I'm wrong, then I think that's awesome and the future is bright! (for all purposes, the exclamation mark used was intended only to convey sarcasm, and no further meaning, aggressive or otherwise, should be interpreted from the circumcised l )
 

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