Friday, October 1, 2010

Battle of the Sexes

My dad sent this to me in an email the other day:

An English professor wrote the words: "A woman without her man is nothing" on the chalkboard and asked his students to punctuate it correctly.

All of the males in the class wrote: "A woman, without her man, is nothing."

Are you ready for this...........?

All the females in the class wrote: "A woman: without her, man is nothing."

First of all, I don't believe that all of the male students punctuated the sentence one way and all of the females punctuated it another. But I get the point: punctuation isn’t just used to let us know when a sentence is over or to separate items in a series; it can also be used to perpetuate the battle between the sexes.

Well, women’s income may only be 79.9% of men’s and the NBA may be infinitely more popular than the WNBA, but, sorry guys, the women have won the punctuation challenge.

For the record, let me just say that, as a woman, I find no gratification in the females winning. I have come to peace with the opposite sex. I have put down my sword, so to speak. I believe that men and women are equal and equally need one another. However, as a grammar lesson, let's break down why the females won.

The females punctuated their sentence perfectly to connote that a man is nothing without a woman. But, the males’ sentence didn’t quite manage to suggest the opposite.

If the males would have just left the sentence as it was and not added the commas, they would have tied with the females by successfully connoting that women are nothing without men.

The commas the males added around without her man suggest that without her man is extra information, and thus, can be taken out without altering the meaning of the sentence- but it can’t.

To illustrate my point, let’s look at a sentence in which extra information is correctly set off with commas:

Jane, without her man, managed to open the jar of spaghetti sauce.

If we take out without her man, this is our sentence:

Jane managed to open the jar of spaghetti sauce.

The fact that she opened it without a man present is just added detail. The important thing is that she got the stupid jar open.

Now, let’s go back to the males’ sentence:

A woman, without her man, is nothing.

Now, let’s remove without her man:

A woman is nothing.

Oh really? Someone get me my sword.


Anonymous said...

Haha, so clever of those girls!

I over-use commas in my writing a little bit because I always think of them in terms of saying it out loud where a pause would sound better, ie more dramatic. But I can see that in this context they're not really needed.

Jeffrey Beesler said...

Wow. This is probably the best lesson on commas and extraneous information I've seen yet. I'll have to remember the dangers of what remains once I've removed what lies between the commas.

Meg O. said...

No, the women definitely won. I'm overlooking that small detail! Commas, schmommas!

James Garcia Jr said...

I surrendered to the woman long before I read your post...
My friend, while I'm here. Friday, I posted my first-ever video blog and mentioned you. Should you find the time:

Hannah Kincade said...

LOL! I love your last line: "Someone get me my sword." Terrific. I'm with you!

HulaBuns said...

Get me a sword too, I'm going to battle with you! :D

Gorilla Bananas said...

Silly boys! They should have read the sentence aloud in their heads to realise that no commas were required. As for the girls, I think they've been listening to too many Charles Aznavour songs.

Theresa Milstein said...

I've seen these two differently punctuated sentences before, but it was never explained as thoroughly. Bottom line, men who misuse commas are jerks.

Anonymous said...

The power of a comma. They can make all the difference in not only communicating something to an audience, but how the audience interprets and perceives the message. Thanks for sharing. Learn something new every day.

Stephen Tremp

kathryn said...

Honey, I've got your back. Between the two of us, there's nothing we can't do!

Does anyone really believe that the entire class split down the middle by gender? Why don't ppl realize that the story would be so much more believable if they didn't take it past the point of no return??

Mary Aalgaard said...

My bet's on you - go girl power!

notesfromnadir said...

It's interesting because my first thought was that it should be a woman without a man--why her man, why be so possessive? But you have it right, remove that phrase entirely & you get a very, very old fashioned POV!

But this is a great lesson on the power of a comma!

thuytarded said...

This is a very sneaky professor but he couldnt get it passed most of the females.
I loved this example!

Jack Morgan said...

Hurrah, that’s what I was trying to get for, just what a stuff Presented at this blog!! Thanks admin of the site. Grammarly