Sunday, January 27, 2008

Comma toast

I went out for brunch this past Sunday and ordered a typical breakfast, with eggs, toast, hash browns, and an assortment of pork products.

When the plate arrived, I could see everything but the bacon. Clearly it wasn't underneath the eggs. I checked underneath my toast. It seemed an odd place to hide bacon, but where else could it be? No luck, though. I pushed around my hash browns with my fork to see if perhaps there were bits of bacon amongst the finely chopped vegetables that the hash browns had been cooked with. Still no trace of the missing bacon. Did the menu not say that bacon was included? I was about to ask the waiter about the location of my bacon. I thought about it a little more, and realized what had happened. The menu read
"Bacon, sausage or ham, toast, ..."
which, due to the absence of a comma after "sausage", I had taken to mean that the breakfast included bacon and sausage or ham and toast.... Grammatically speaking, there's nothing wrong with the sentence. It's just ambiguous, and I chose the interpretation that suited me best, reinforced by the fact that there was a comparable menu item that did in fact come with two meats. When given the choice between the three options, I would almost always choose bacon. But satisfied with the illusion that I would be getting bacon, I chose sausage as the second meat, which, the illusion having been nothing but that, turned out to be my only meat.

I guess the comma is insufficiently powerful to fight against such crimes of ambiguity. Perhaps some sort of super-comma is needed. If only one existed.


Second Lament for the Semi-Colon

I would've had some bacon
If they'd used a semi-colon
But instead they used a comma
Which caused a bit of trauma.

1 comment:

David Tyner said...

I had a similar problem ordering a sandwich at the grad club.

Sandwich menu:
Roast beef and ham $X.YZ
Chicken curry $A.BC

So I ordered a roast beef and ham sandwich. With a questioning look, by the guy behind the counter, I quickly realized my misinterpretation of the menu.