“I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.”--Oscar Wilde
Punctuation is important. Grandma, especially, thinks so.
I started out writing a post about Whirlpool’s brilliantly-punctuated new tagline: the beauty of the comma placement; the deliberate lack of period that gives the phrase a double meaning.
Three choices make this phrase wonderful.
- The choice to make "every day" two words, rather than one, makes "every" an adjective that modifies "day," rather than "everyday" an adjective that modifies "care." It's deliberately not "everyday care."
- The choice to use a comma puts this phrase in the imperative mood, making "care" a commanding action verb. (Linguistics Girl has a great post explaining this.)
- The choice not to use a period, which goes a long way toward reversing the grammatical effect of the first two choices, giving the phrase two meanings at once. Without a period, the tagline isn't wholly a statement. It can do double duty, conveying both "everyday care" and "every day, care." If it had a period, the imperative mood would be much stronger, leaving the "everyday care" message in the dust.
The new campaign is about the everyday care that families give one another, and also implies the kind of care Whirlpool appliances give to our laundry and dishes. (Whirlpool's new Every Day Care Project web page and supporting assets do a wonderful job of conveying this sense.) The double meaning of the tagline is brilliant. It reminds me of another tagline's precise word and punctuation choices.
Grammar Girl has a great discussion of the grammatical implications of the use of "different," rather than "differently," in this famous Apple slogan. The use of "different" allows the phrase to mean both "think about different kinds of computers" and "think in a different way."
A colon punctuating this phrase, "Think: different" would have emphasized the first meaning, "think about different computers." Without the period at the end, the slogan would lose some of the weight of the imperative mood; it wouldn't be as strong a command. As it is, the phrase conveys both meanings beautifully.
It was my intention to praise Whirlpool, and their agency, for this carefully-wrought phrase, perfectly punctuated to pack in double meaning.
But when I went on Whirlpool's web site to take a screen shot of the tagline, I found it used WITH A PERIOD.
Come on, Whirlpool. Make up your mind. Every day, care ... about punctuation.