A missing apostrophe could cost a real estate agent tens of thousands of dollars after an Australian court ruled a defamation case against him could proceed over a Facebook post.
The agent, Anthony Zadravic, who is based on the Central Coast in New South Wales, posted the message on Oct. 22, accusing his former workplace and a man named Stuart Gan of not paying retirement funds to all its workers.
Less than 12 hours later, he deleted the post. But it was too late. Mr. Gan became aware of the message and filed a defamation claim against Mr. Zadravic, setting off a tussle over a punctuation mark no larger than a pinhead in a country that has earned a reputation as the defamation capital of the world.
In matters of punctuation, social media is the Wild West. In some corners of the internet, careless grammar is highly tolerated — even a badge of honor. In legal matters, however, disputed punctuation can cost millions.
One recent case in Portland, Me., on overtime for truck drivers hinged on the lack of an Oxford comma in state law. The case, settled in 2018 for $5 million, gained international notoriety when the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that the missing comma created enough uncertainty to side with the drivers. It gave grammar obsessives and those who adore the Oxford comma a chance to revel in the victory.
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