The hefty cost of punctuation mistakes

The hefty cost of punctuation mistakes

By Natasha Ndlebe

Poor logic, grammatical errors and spelling mistakes are embarrassing. But that’s not all. A failure to pay attention to punctuation can cost your organisation millions of rands.

Here are some memorable blunders:

NASA Mariner 1 mission

In 1976, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s mission to Venus was aborted 5 minutes after launch. The control unit found a typographical error in a computer equation. An overbar (loosely known as a hyphen) was omitted. This would have sent the spacecraft off course. The error cost the U.S. government US$80 million (about R1 billion at today’s exchange rate).

Oakhurst Dairy vs three delivery drivers

In 2014, three delivery drivers in the U.S. state of Maine sued Oakhurst Dairy for denying to pay them four years’ worth of overtime. State law states that an employee doesn’t qualify to receive overtime pay for the following activities: “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce; (2) Meat and fish products; and (3) Perishable foods”. The defence argued that the absence of an Oxford comma after “shipment” created ambiguity. The delivery drivers referred to “packing” as a single activity, whether for “shipment or distribution”. Delivery drivers handle perishable foods but they don’t pack them. A judge ruled in favour of the drivers, costing Oakhurst Dairy US$10 million (about R129 million).

Radio presenter calling President Zuma a “zombie”

After likening President Jacob Zuma to a zombie, Ravi Govender was fired from Lotus FM. Govender said that Zuma had “massacred” the English language at an African National Congress policy conference. He posted his concerns on Facebook and Zuma’s supporters took action against him. His explanation, “I posted what I posted on Facebook out of anger. I should have known better. He sounded while delivering his speech dead to me, no feelings, no punctuation at all”.

Even in public speaking, the inability to use punctuation is evident. Pointing this out cost Govender his job.

More recently, we were reminded the importance of paying attention to detail when Walter Sisulu University paid R14 million to a student instead of a loan amount of R1 400.  Could a comma have been at issue? No one is talking…

Financial losses will burn a hole in your pocket. But the costs to your reputation and integrity have no limits. Unlike the infamous “Let’s eat Grandma” meme, not all punctuation mistakes are as humorous.