And they say that grammar is dead. Tell that to the lawyers. Monday's Canadian Globe and Mail has a story describing an expensive error in punctuation on a contract for the use of telephone poles in the Canadian Maritimes that may cost the lessee millions of extra dollars.
The offending sentence in an otherwise ironclad contract reads as follows:
"(The agreement) shall continue in force for a period of five years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.”
According to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) which reviewed the contract, that second comma allows either party to terminate the contract at will with one year's written notice, rather than applying after the first five year term as intended by the lessee. The rules of grammar are against that interpretation, regardless of the intent of the contract, so now instead of paying a lease fee of $9.60 Canadian to use 91,000 telephone poles, a renegotiated contract with existing rate increases may end up costing as much as $28.05 Canadian per pole.
An expensive lesson in English grammar, as well in the value of careful legal review.
CWCID: Books, Words and Writing