Notes from An Alien

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Tag Archives: Correct Punctuation

Bad Punctuation Rules


Bad Punctuation Rules

Image Courtesy of Svilen Milev ~ http://efffective.com

There’s been quite a bit written about what’s “right” or “wrong” on this blog

And, quite recently, I’ve used and defended a situation of punctuation that I feel strongly about.

Here are two takes on that situation (with my opinions):

John told me, “I will never end a sentence that way!”

That’s the way the “rules” say it should be punctuated

But, “John told me” isn’t the kind of beginning that demands an exclamation mark at the end

So the “rules” left out a period (“full stop” for some of you).

Here’s what I think is the logical way to punctuate that sentence:

John told me, “I will never end a sentence that way!”.

That may look “horribly wrong” to some of you; but, I believe that’s only because we’ve had the “rules” “forcing” us to accept the first example

Of course, it could be rewritten to avoid such a shockingly logical ending:

John nearly screamed at me when he told me he’d never end a sentence with a period outside the quotes.

Kind of loses something that way, in my humble opinion

Then there’s my dear friend Emily Dickinson.

She would write a bit —

With a breath taken —

And continue…

I used to think that all the dashes in her poetry were just her asserting her emotions—then, I found out lots of folks in the USA were doing the same thing, back in the late 1800s.

Now it’s time to reveal what got me on to talking about punctuation today.

The Guardian has an article called, Sats tests will harm next generation of writers, says Society of Authors.

A few excerpts:

“Children’s authors are warning that the ‘restrictive’ way children in England are being taught writing in school will affect the next generation of novelists, biographers and poets.”

“…members of the Society of Authors…condemn current government policy on the teaching of writing and grammar. They say the government has intervened too far and that ‘the resultant teaching no longer reflects what writing really does’.”

Some folks are probably choking over the way I punctuated that last excerpt’s end (check out the article to see the original sentence).

One more pertinent excerpt:

“As year 6 children [10 & 11 year-olds] sit their Sats tests this week – including spelling, punctuation and grammar – the authors say that when the Department for Education introduces new terminology for grammatical structure, such as ‘fronted adverbs’, and insists that exclamation marks can only end sentences starting with ‘what’ or ‘how’, it risks ‘alienating, confusing and demoralising children with restrictions on language just at the time when they need to be excited by the possibilities’.”

Just as an interesting point of international punctuation confusion—the article, in a UK newspaper, said, “including spelling, punctuation and grammar”; yet, most often, I believe, in the USA, it would “properly” be, “including spelling, punctuation, and grammar”—one extra little comma

Regular readers of this blog know I’ve been a maverick all my life—I really wasn’t so much confused or demoralized by punctuation or grammatical rules—I just changed them to suit my own logical priorities—though, there was enough other stuff that did confuse and demoralize me

And, concerning what the UK government’s Department of Education said about exclamation marks, do read this wonderfully authorial article.

Finally, for the link-clickers out there, here’s a somewhat related article—A Better Way to Read
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National Punctuation Day ~ I Missed It, #@/%#* … !


Yep, me, a published author, missed National Punctuation Day—for the last nine years!!

Who knew?

Why didn’t we all get a letter from some official?

At least, our publishers or editors or agents could have alerted us!

Now, let us prepare for next September 24th (those of us in the U.S.A.—other countries may adopt it, too…).

I found a guest post on the Missouri State Teachers Association WebSite (and, there just might be a punctuation mistake in their title?) by Jeff Rubin, who “has written and designed more than 1,800 company newsletters since starting his newsletter publishing firm” and is the Founder of the official Day (probably some missing punctuation in that description…)—he says:

“I started National Punctuation Day in 2004 because I was concerned that our language skills are declining. Test scores confirm my suspicions. A study in 2007 by California State University-East Bay revealed that nearly 60 percent of incoming freshmen needed remedial English classes. Nationwide, 28 percent of incoming college freshmen enrolled in remedial classes, according to a 2004 report by the National Center for Education Statistics. This is unconscionable.

“We’re losing more of our language every year. There was an article in the San Francisco Chronicle last year in which parents questioned the need to teach their children how to spell. Unbelievable! With this attitude, it won’t be ‘no child left behind’, but rather ‘all children left behind’.”

By the way, Since I was quoting Jeff, I had to use “s around his words, but he used “s in his sentences, so I had to change his “s to ‘s (double quote to single quote) to abide by the rules of punctuation.

Also, I “broke” a rule of punctuation because the end of his last sentence, according to the rules should have been, rather ‘all children left behind.'”, and I put, rather ‘all children left behind’.”

I feel the single quote mark after the last word belongs before the period since its use is to close the quote; then, the double quote closes the full quote of the full sentence

The rule that all quote marks Must follow all other punctuation at the end of a sentence is not a rule of literary clarity—it arose when typesetters, in the days of lead type and wooden frames, found that, if the punctuation (thinner) was outside the quote (fatter), it would fall out of the frame—it’s just a mechanical rule and can safely be broken by literary mavericks :-)

Then, there’s my favorite poet, Emily Dickinson, who threw out nearly all normal punctuation and replaced it with dashes of various lengths. From Dashing Genius: Emily Dickinson and the Punctuation of Cognition :

“Edith Wylder analyzed thirty poetry manuscripts…and identified 221 irregular notations, further classified as angular slants, reversed slants, horizontal marks, and curved marks. After an admittedly rough mathematical calculation, I estimate over seven thousand dash-like notations in Dickinson’s holographs. In a videotaped interview, poet Adrienne Rich recalls: ‘I’ll never forget the shock of opening the second edition of the poems in which the dashes had been restored and getting a sense of a whole new reading of the poetry, a whole new voice’;  the resulting typography seemed ‘much more jagged, much more personal, much more original, much more uncontainable than I had ever thought her to be.'”

You can visit the official National Punctuation Day WebSite and find all sorts of curious and fun stuff about these sometimes pesky, sometimes critical marks.

And, The Atlantic Wire has two cool posts about punctuation:

Writers’ Favorite Punctuation Marks

The Imagined Lives of Punctuation Marks
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