SCRIVENER The Mighty Period and Ellipsis, 0914 SCBJ, SC Lawyer, September 2014, #48

Author:Nathan M. Crystal, J.
 
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SCRIVENER The Mighty Period and Ellipsis

Vol. 26 Issue 2 Pg. 48

South Carolina BAR Journal

September, 2014

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0 Nathan M. Crystal, J.

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0When Judge Solomon Blatt, Jr. was practicing law in Barnwell in 1970, he had the good sense to argue that punctuation in an insurance contract (along with the words, of course) created enough ambiguity to avoid summary judgment. He even submitted the affidavit of a "grammar expert," the head of the English Department at the University of South Carolina.

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0My law partner Bruce Shaw— representing the insurance company—disagreed, arguing that the court should not resort to construing punctuation because punctuation could not control or contradict the meaning of the contract when construed as a whole and because the punctuation was unnecessary to determining the meaning of the contract. Bruce also objected to the expert affidavit.

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0The federal district court judge agreed with Judge Blatt, finding that the English professor was a recognized expert in his field and that his testimony supported a finding that the contract was ambiguous. See Grayson v. Aetna Ins. Co., 308 F. Supp. 922, 926-27 (D.S.C. 1970). Punctuation victory.

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0In the pecking order of punctuation, periods may seem lower on the totem pole than most. After all, the primary function of a period is to just end sentences. The period came into unexpected prominence this summer after a college professor challenged the accuracy of including a period found in the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence that is maintained by the National Archives:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are

Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed ....

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0The period after "Happiness" apparently was not in Thomas Jefferson's original version or in many other versions of the document that were created around 1776. Professor Danielle Allen believes that the period in the National Archives version is in error. See Jennifer Schuessler, If Only Thomas Jefferson Could Settle the Issue, NY. Times, July 2, 2014, www.nytimes.c...

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