The other day I was driving around and saw a bumper sticker on the car in front of me.
It said, “Stop Killing Cops”.
Now I’m pretty sure I know what that driver meant to say with the sticker. But it got me thinking about how punctuation can change everything, and how many different meanings that sticker could have, if only we played with some commas and colons.
Here we go.
Stop Killing Cops. That’s the original message, and I assume it means that the driver would like people to quit murdering police officers. Quite reasonable.
Stop Killing, Cops. Not what the sticker was intended to mean, at least I don’t think so. This one means that the police should really stop killing…stuff.
Stop Killing, Cops (version two). This one might mean “Hey everybody, stop killing. Love always, the cops.”
Stop, Killing Cops. Nasty. You policemen who are so fond of killing that you have earned the nickname “Killing Cops,” just please stop. Whatever you’re doing, stop.
Stop: Killing, Cops. There are a lot of things that should be stopped. Two of them are: Killing, and Cops.
Stop Killing: Cops. Much clearer with the original intent, please quit murdering the police.
As much attention as we pay to every word we write, this silly little exercise reminds me that punctuation can be just as important.