Lexicon Valley

Grammar Sticklers and Illegal Parkers, Rejoice!

Not a “motor vehicle camper,” whatever that is.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

An Ohio woman and hero to all has successfully wiggled her way out of a summons on the peculiar grounds of absentee punctuation. While many a linguist (including John McWhorter in Slate) would argue that commas don’t matter much, to a state appeals court judge the missing mark in question was reason enough to dismiss a parking ticket.

Late last month, legal pioneer Andrea Cammelleri argued that a citation she was issued in 2014 was effectively void given a keystroke fail in a West Jefferson, Ohio, statute. The law, which lists several types of vehicles that cannot be parked for longer than 24 hours, failed to separate “motor vehicle” and “camper” with the all-important, implied pause. Cammelleri was quick to point out that her pickup truck—while indeed a motor vehicle—was not a “motor vehicle camper,” and Judge Robert Hendrickson of the 12th Ohio District Court of Appeals miraculously agreed, stating that the village should add a comma in the interest of civic clarity. And while this doesn’t quite rise to “eats, shoots and leaves” levels of confusion, parking violators around the country are now scouring local road rules in hopes of holding their governments to the strict letter of the law.