The other day, a car wielding a bumper sticker pulled past me. The sticker said I should:

Love people,
prepare them yummy food.

We stopped at a light, the car ahead of me. Taking a closer look, I laughed aloud. Someone had taken a Sharpie pen to the sticker, surreptitiously inserting a comma. It actually read:

Love people,
prepare them , yummy food.

Later, I recalled a B.C. cartoon from years ago. The main character had just been decked by his heavy-set female nemesis. He had said:

Where's the beef, jerky?

followed by

I'd better be more careful where I place my commas.

I've looked at all the Similar Questions (sidebar to the right), reading about both misplaced and dangling modifiers. I understand the sentence constructions above are grammatically correct - which is perhaps the primary reason they're so funny (I think :).

Are these examples of the mischievous use of modifiers? Or is there another term for this form of humor or structure?

  • 3
    Eats, shoots and leaves is the title of a book which highlighted this sort of thing, so that phrase has come to symbolize the concept. Never read the book, though, so I don't know what terms it uses.
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 1, 2016 at 3:10
  • 3
    And I recall a cartoon in, I'm thinking, a 3rd grade English textbook, ca 1956. Don't recall exactly what the images were, but there were two frames, one where kids said "Let's eat, Grandma!" and another where they said "Let's eat Grandma!" Kinda got the point across.
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 1, 2016 at 3:15
  • 1
    It's definitely the mischevoous use of commas (not a bad term, BTW), but that use is not limited to modifiers, as the comma in Eats, shoots and leaves clearly demonstrates. Sep 1, 2016 at 3:21
  • @HotLicks - hey! Thanks for the reminder ... I'd completely forgotten about that book ... think I have it buried somewhere ... Sep 1, 2016 at 3:22

1 Answer 1


A good term for this particular form of grammatical humor: the mischievous comma. Good book title, too. Sequels could address other forms. :-)

I still remember a Bazooka Joe (the gum) comic I read when I was a kid. One of the characters says, "I'm going to eat up the street." Another character says, "I hope it tastes good." This happens all the time when writers don't take care to make sure their sentences say precisely what they are intended to say. Klinkenborg's 2013 book, Several short sentences about writing, provides numerous hilarious examples from real-life writing classes.

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