Hamartia, Comma, Hubris, Comma, And The Literary Laws Of Aditya Sondhi
Play • 35 min

In this episode we spend quite a bit of time examining the comma.

This, the smallest of literary squiggles, is also the most important of all squiggles.

Not using a comma correctly could have serious implications - it could change the meaning of a sentence. It's one thing when that happens in daily life. Quite another in courts; a misplaced or missing comma could have serious legal implications.

In 2006, a dispute in Canada over a comma in a 14 page long contract in a telecom case resulted in a cost of 1 million Canadian dollars.

In another case, in the state of Maine in the United States, delivery drivers of the Oakhurst Dairy, were in a legal spat with their employers for overtime. The U.S. Court of Appeals determined that Maine’s overtime law was grammatically ambiguous, and for that reason, the drivers won the appeal.

The offending sentence was this: "The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: <...their products>"

The rules of the Oxford Comma—which Pea and I discuss at length in our segment "WHAT'S THAT WORD?!"—state that there should be a comma even before the last item on a list—even with the presence of "and".

By this rule, the sentence should have sported a comma between “shipment” and “or”. Such as this: "...packing for shipment, comma, or distribution"

Therefore, the court ruled that the absence of the comma meant the phrase “packing for shipment or distribution” was one action.

So, grammar is important in law.

And if lawyers must be grammatical, then there is a good chance that some of them will be literary. (For the same reason I suppose that many architects are also good designers.)

And proof of that is my guest today, Aditya Sondhi. A senior advocate with a Masters in Political Science and he a PhD, by a thesis on the army and democracy.

He is an  author of two books, published by Penguin, and he has written two one-act plays—one of which was shortlisted for a prestigious award. Sondhi was also the winner of the Deccan Herald (a Bangalore-based newspaper) short story contest.

Who better than he with whom to discuss good grammar?

Co-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in the segment titled "What's That Word?"—or titled in whichever way Ramjee  mangles the title—to discover the origins of the most important of squiggles, the humble comma.

If you have a word or phrase you would like to explore, join us live on the show. Reach us by mail: theliterarycity@explocity.com or simply, tlc@explocity.com.
Or, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/bangaloreliterarysociety
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If your word or phrase is selected, we'll call you.

Join our Facebook group, Bangalore Literary Society. It does not matter if you are not in Bangalore. This group is for anyone interested in language and words.

The Literary City encourages you to give to those children who struggle to get an education.  We ask you to contribute whatever you can to The Association of People with Disability. The link to donate is: https://www.apd-india.org/donations. Visit their site and take a look at the wonderful work they do and find it in your heart to, well, teach a child to fish.

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