Author Archives: Philip Bebb

“Let’s Eat Granny”

“Let’s eat granny” shouted my wife. It was past dinner time and we were all hungry, but it seemed a bit dramatic. It might not be too late for granny, punctuation can save her life!  All she needs is a comma.

What’s a comma and what do they do? They reduce sentences into shorter, more manageable sections, tell us when to pause and which words to stress. This can completely change the meaning of a sentence. Without commas does this sentence make sense?

‘The cannibal smiled half an hour after she was hanged’.

No, it doesn’t make any sense, unless you believe in ghosts. However, it does make sense when you add two commas. Where should you place them?

‘The cannibal smiled half an hour after she was hanged’.

This now makes perfect sense; ‘The cannibal smiled, half an hour after, she was hanged’.

If you read both sentences aloud (with and without commas), you will clearly hear how the commas change the stress and therefore the meaning.  

In this sentence, who’s mad and who’s speaking?

‘The cannibal said the judge is mad’

 Without commas, the Judge is mad and the cannibal is speaking.

Can you add two commas, to make the cannibal mad and the judge the speaker?

‘The cannibal said the judge is mad’.

This is how. ‘The cannibal, said the judge, is mad’.

In a famous UK legal case a man was hanged by a comma. The interpretation of the law depended on the disputed position of a comma. So don’t underestimate the importance of commas, they can save your life but get you hanged as well.

Me and my wife recently discussed the question, who is more important in a relationship, the man or the woman? I put the comma in the first sentence:

‘Woman without her man, is nothing’. The comma position here confirms that women are dependent on men. But my wife thinks otherwise and strategically moved the commas: ‘Woman, without her, man is nothing’. Now men are dependent on women.

Women sometimes worry me, particularly my wife. I had good reason when I read what she’d written on her Facebook profile;

‘My interests include cooking dogs and family’.

On first reading this, I decided to get the dog and kids into the car and drive somewhere safe where we wouldn’t be turned into meat kebabs. But on a second reading, I realized it was just poor punctuation rather than a poor choice of a life partner. Maybe she isn’t a cannibal after all.

Her profile needs three commas. Where should they go?

‘My interests include cooking dogs and family’

If you place them here;

‘My interests include, cooking, dogs, and family’. She becomes the good mother and animal lover I married.

But I still worry. She does have this tendency of wanting to eat the people she loves, including granny. So, how can a comma save granny?  Simple, “Let’s eat, granny”. Say it aloud and it’s how you call someone to the dining table to share dinner. So granny’s safe and sitting down at the table enjoying a selection of meat kebabs. “What meat is this?” she asks looking around “And where are the kids?”  

This article was first published in Prastuti, Anandabazar Patrika.

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Proverbs

What are proverbs? They’re phrases containing the experience and observations of many generations; they’re the wisdom of the street and the philosophy of the common people and there’s one for every occasion.

As you read about my weekend, try to answer these 2 questions;

  1. Can you identify the theme of the proverbs used?
  2. Can you guess the ‘real’ meanings of the proverbs from the context?

I bought my father a mobile phone so I could keep in touch. But he told me he didn’t need it or know how to use it and to save money turned it off immediately, proving ‘you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink’. He’s always been the same and will probably never change, after all ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’.

I was thinking about how I could get my father to use his phone when my wife shouted from the kitchen “I hope you haven’t forgotten it’s my birthday tomorrow?” But of course I had. “It’s no big deal” I responded, ‘don’t make a mountain out of a molehill”.  Not convinced, she reminded me that I’d recently forgotten our anniversary. “But that was last month” I told her, and “there’s no point in ‘shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted’”. I told her not to bring it up or we’d argue about it. “It’s better forgotten, ‘let sleeping dogs lie’”. Husband and wife should not fight or hurt each other, just as ‘dog does not eat dog’.

I thought I’d redeem myself by cooking my famous fried rice. My children love it and so offered to help. That’s what families are for ‘birds of a feather flock together’.  I took them into the kitchen and explained what ingredients to use and in what quantities to use them. As my father says, what’s the point in having kids if they don’t help or ‘why keep a dog and bark yourself?’

Then, surprisingly I received a phone call from my father. I could hardly believe it! The radio was loud and the children were shouting so I went into another room to chat. He told me that he’d changed his mind about the phone and would leave it turned on and call me every week. I’d underestimated him; it seems ‘every dog has his day’.

Meanwhile in the kitchen, the children were being naughty, proving that ‘when the cat’s away the mice will play’. They’d experimented with the rice and added far too many herbs and spices in an attempt to improve its flavour. But it was a case of ‘curiosity killed the cat’. Curiosity also killed the meal. It was inedible and we all went to bed hungry.

The next morning, feeling guilty (and hungry), I woke up very early, quietly crept out of the house and went to the market to buy my wife some chocolates as a birthday present. ‘It’s the early bird that catches the worm’. When I woke her later and presented them with a cup of tea she smiled and said I knew you hadn’t really forgotten. “An elephant never forgets”. I replied, stuffing handfuls of chocolates into my mouth.

This article was first published in Prastuti, Anandabazar Patrika.

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