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17/12/2013

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Warsaw Will

This is all over the Internet, including in Wikipedia, and the story about the English professor is no doubt apocryphal.

But surely this has nothing to do with pedantry or 'correct' pronunciation, but is simply a humorous way of showing how variations in punctuation can be used to give two totally different meanings to the same sentence. It's like a cleaner version of the Uncle Jack and the horse joke that is also doing the rounds.

The 'unnecessary' parentheses, may not change the meaning, but they do add emphasis. And changing the second sentence to 'Without a woman man is nothing' misses the whole point - this is a joke!

Warsaw Will

Sorry, pronunciation should of course be punctuation.

John Cowan

Ralph Roister Doister (1552) was the first comedy written in English. In it, Ralph sent a letter to his ladylove, Dame Custance, thus:

Sweet mistress, whereas I love you — nothing at all
Regarding your riches and substance, chief of all
For you personage, beauty, demeanour and wit —
I commend me unto you. Never a whit
Sorry to hear report of your good welfare;
For (as I hear say) such your conditions are
That ye be worthy favour; of no living man
To be abhorred; of every honest man
To be taken for a woman inclined to vice
Nothing at all; to virtue giving her due price.

Unfortunately, Custance couldn't read, and passed it to Matthew Merrygreek, who ignored the punctuation and read it out loud as follows:

Sweet mistress, whereas I love you nothing at all,
Regarding your substance and riches chief of all,
For your personage, beauty, demeanour and wit
I commend me to you never a whit.
Sorry to hear report of your good welfare.
For (as I hear say) such your conditions are
That ye be worthy favour of no living man;
To be abhorred of no living man;
To be taken for a woman inclined to vice;
Nothing at all to virtue giving her due price.

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