Yes, when it comes to grammar, punctuation, and usage, I can be a little fussy (aka, pedantic, persnickety, and/or nitpicky). But like sexual orientation, it’s not a choice. I was born this way.
This post is about three of my personal punctuation pet peeves. How’s that, grammar nerds, for a wonderful example of alliteration?
First, I will opine about the Oxford comma. After that I will discuss the placements of period and commas with respect to quotation marks. And finally, a brief word on apostrophes.
Are you ready to rumble?
The Oxford comma
The Oxford comma is a comma before the conjunction “and” or “or” preceding the last item at the end of a list of three or more items. Some suggest that use of the Oxford comma is optional. I don’t concur. Let me give you a few common examples where the absence of the Oxford comma can be problematic.
“We invited the strippers, Trump and Putin.”
Without the Oxford comma, that sentence implies that Trump and Putin are the strippers who were invited. But with the Oxford comma, “We invited the strippers, Trump, and Putin,” it becomes quite clear that Trump and Putin were each invited, along with the strippers.
Another frequently used example:
“I’d like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”
Hey, unless you’re Jesus, God is not one of your parents. Neither is Ayn Rand, since she never had any children. What’s so hard about writing, “I’d like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand, and God”?
I’m not sure why anyone has a beef with using the Oxford comma, which always insures clarity in written communications. It’s not like the little comma takes up a lot of extra space. It’s not as if that one extra little keystroke will increase the amount of time it takes you to write whatever it is that you’re writing.
Why not, in the interest of clarity, insert that little comma each and every time? Why not ensure that people aren’t confused by what it is you’re trying to communicate?
Let me state up-front that I write primarily for an American audience. I preface this rant with that caveat because I know that you Brits, Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders follow different punctuation rules.
And that’s fine. That’s the way you were taught. Who am I, just because America is the center of the universe, to suggest that you’re wrong? Even though you clearly are wrong.
That said, there is an American punctuation rule that states unequivocally that commas and periods must always be placed inside the end quotation marks, even if they are not part of what is being quoted.
Okay, I’ll admit that putting a period or comma inside the end quotation marks may not always make sense. But rules are rules, right?
A recent movement in this country, though, promotes what is called “logical punctuation.” As one grammar site noted:
“In the United States, periods and commas go inside quotation marks regardless of logic. In the United Kingdom, Canada, and islands under the influence of British education, punctuation around quotation marks is more apt to follow logic.”
This “logical punctuation” movement seems to have gained some level of grassroots acceptance in the U.S. I’m not surprised to see this trend developing, given the proliferation of emails, chats, blogs, tweets, and Facebook posts, and the informality used in those forms of written communications.
Even Wikipedia, the “free encyclopedia that anyone can edit,” has embraced logical punctuation. Wikipedia’s style guide notes that “logical punctuation … is used here because it is deemed by Wikipedia consensus to be more in keeping with the principle of minimal change.”
This “principle of minimal change” means that if you put a period or comma inside quotation marks, you are wrongly suggesting that the period or comma is part of the quoted material, and thus you have “changed” it.
As a liberal, I am certainly not opposed to change. But as an American, I am bothered by this encroachment of the British way of using punctuation, or what is euphemistically called “logical punctuation.”
My fellow Americans, it’s really not that difficult. Put the goddam period or comma WITHIN the freakin’ end quotations marks.
Oh, one more little thing
If you’re using an apostrophe to make a word plural, as in “Stop by the grocery store and pick up some banana’s and apple’s on your way home.” STOP IT, DAMMIT, STOP IT!