"Modern Family" shows the value of copy editing

(Clip from “Modern Family,” episode “Slow Down Your Neighbors”)

“Modern Family” is a great show that’s criticized for not breaking much new ground (its cautious forays into the life of a gay male couple with children notwithstanding). But its strengths lies in finding new laughs and twists on old routines, and this week, the episode managed to offer a character-sourced copy edit.

Claire is angry at a neighbor who’s being rude, and decides to hatch a scheme to shame said neighbor rather than deal with it like a normal, non-TV person — a classic TV plot that goes back to “I Love Lucy” nearly 60 years ago. The neighbor, in this case, is an anonymous speeder, creating danger in suburbia with a fast, reckless car.

Claire’s answer? A sign, with the license plate of the neighbor, saying, “Slow down,” and saying that this is a message from all the neighbors. Instead, as the family mercilessly (and correctly) points out, it just reads like “Slow Down Your Neighbors!”

The crazy-scheme-gone-wrong is a trope of TV — but it doesn’t mean it can’t work. And, in this case, the character’s self-righteousness gets turned around because of a lack of punctuation.

This is mostly for laughs — after all, I watch the show because I laugh, not for the lessons. But if there is a lesson, it’s that readers will surprise you with what they notice, and if you aren’t keeping up, you’ll get burned. But it will rarely be brought to your attention so publicly or explicitly.

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