The Globe and Mail Revisits the Comma Dispute

If you can’t get enough of the contract dispute between Rogers Communications Inc. and Aliant Inc.—the one about the comma—you should check out this article in today’s Globe and Mail. (And see here and here for my previous posts on the subject.)

This article notes that the dispute has “ignited an international debate over the importance of language.” It suggests that a ruling is expected in the next few months; that’s what I’ve heard, too.

I groaned when I saw that tacked on at the end is a brief exchange with “language expert” Lynne Truss, author of the unlikely bestseller Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: A Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. She sides with Aliant, stating that “the presence of the second comma does clearly mean that the conditions of cancelling the contract apply to the initial five-year term.”

Anyone who’s tempted to give credence to Ms. Truss’s views might want to bear in mind that she has no credibility among those who know something about English usage. In this New Yorker review of her book, Louis Menand says “it’s hard to fend off the suspicion that the whole thing might be a hoax.” And in 83 Texas Law Review 1443 (2005), Bryan Garner notes that “linguistic pros are mostly aghast” and closes by saying that “The true sticklers of the world are uniting against Lynne Truss.”

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.

2 thoughts on “The Globe and Mail Revisits the Comma Dispute”

  1. Punctuation practices differ in Canada and England, so it is inappropriate to consider Ms. Truss as an expert in punctuation in Candian legal writing. For example, her comment about the absence of punctuation in legal is correct concerning British drafting, and perhaps Australian, but wrong about Canadian.

  2. My instinct is that the agreement, under that language, is terminable at any time upon 1 year prior written notice. However, it seems clear from the way the clause is written that that cannot be what was intended.

    If they meant to have a self-renewing contract terminable upon 1 year notice, why make it 5 year terms? In effect a one year self-renewing contract would arrive at the same result.

    While I’m usually a stickler for the words are the words are the words, I’d simply construe this against the drafter.


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