I haven’t been able to confirm the story I’m about to tell. But it’s so useful when you’re learning commas that I’m going to tell it anyway.
Years ago a wealthy man is supposed to have won a lawsuit against Western Union because of a missing comma. Here’s what happened:
He was away on business when his wife telegraphed him for permission to buy an expensive piece of jewelry.
When she got his telegram – “No price too high” – she went ahead and bought the jewelry. He got home from the trip, found out she’d indeed made the purchase, and sued.
Here’s the message he’d intended to send: “No, price too high.” Big difference!
It’s a great story to illustrate the importance of punctuation, and a great excuse to remind you about Comma Rule 1: Use a comma when a sentence begins with an extra idea.
(Or: Use a comma when a sentence begins with an introduction. Take your pick: The two rules amount to the same thing.)
Here are some examples for you to mull over (suggestion: Read the sentences aloud). All these sentences are correct:
I picked up the dry cleaning this afternoon. CORRECT
Jane, I picked up the dry cleaning this afternoon. CORRECT (“Jane” is extra)
Jane picked up the dry cleaning this afternoon. CORRECT
No dogs are permitted in the lobby. CORRECT
No, dogs are permitted in the lobby. CORRECT (“No” is extra. Can you hear that this is probably the answer to a question about the rule about dogs?)
To learn more about Comma Rule 1, click here. And did you notice that the previous sentence is a perfect example of a Comma Rule 1 sentence?