Can you smell that? Plump with promise, marinated in intrigue, it’s the headline you’ll give your right index finger to read. Illuminated behind the oven door of your 1080p laptop screen, lies the Senokot of easily digestible stories, beckoning you in. “What the hell?,” you shrug before slicing your eyes through 450 characters of crisp introductory skin, until – wait, you must be fucking kidding me – another poorly cooked article that’s begging for the bin!
Welcome to Grammar Roast. The deliciously self-indulgent corner of my blog where my inner grammar pedant – and penchant for poetic introductions – runs free. Stick with me, and you’ll learn some do’s, but mostly the definite do not’s of grammar, as dictated by my latest fit of internet-fueled fury. Disclaimer: I’m not perfect either, but some things are just too sickening to forgive.
Today’s roast: ‘Logical’ punctuation and why it repulses me
Writing and reading. You’d think both would be mutually inclusive. After all, how can one improve their writing if they don’t bother to read? Truth is, though, it’s a pretty one-sided affair. In my book, at least, the better you get at writing, the more difficult it is to read. Because, as per my intro, no matter how riveting the content, as soon as I come across text that doesn’t look or sound quite right, I’m out. I must be fun at parties? Well, why else would I DJ?
‘Logical’ punctuation, placing full stops and commas outside of quotation marks, is one of those things. Worst of all, although it repulses me TO THE CORE, it’s a disease that seems to have spread to all corners of the internet.
The British style vs. the American style
I’ll let you in on a little secret: although I tend to write in universal US English, I am in fact British. Naturally, that means I prefer the way we do things. I love extra vowels and extra ls. I hate the words trash and garbage. Oftentimes, frankly, is sickening. So when it comes to ‘logical’ punctuation – which, at least according to The Guardian, is correct in the UK – you’d think I’d feel the same way.
“You’d think wrong”, seethed the disgruntled Englishwoman.
If you ask me, leaving full stops and commas outside of quotation marks is the worst kind of third wheeling there is. And as everyone knows, whichever end of the third-wheel deal you’re on, there is nothing logical about it. ‘Logical’ punctuation looks so redundant that, when writing a magazine style guide, I once compared it to being humiliatingly rejected at the nightclub door. In case you hadn’t guessed, I’m thoroughly on the American side with this one.
Or am I?
Where did it all go so very wrong?
Being a writer of historical articles, among other things, I’ve read a lot of older English books. Take, for example, my Broadly piece on Victorian feminist, occultist and animal rights campaigner Anna Kingsford. Not only did I read her own books of the era, but those of her 19th century contemporaries, including the very English Edward Maitland. All of these books place punctuation inside the quotation marks.
Since I have the book to hand, I’ll use the following random excerpt from the biography Maitland wrote for Kingsford, published in London in 1913, as an example.
My point is that perhaps ‘logical’ punctuation – full stops and commas outside of the quotation marks – is not so very British after all. As books like these prove, if ‘logical’ punctuation really is the correct UK English, it must be relatively new.
Enter my sworn enemy: hypercorrection
I don’t care what British media institutions like The Guardian or The Radio Times say in their style guides – namely that punctuation should only go inside the quotation marks if it is part of the quotation. I’m going to blame this whole, illogically logical thing on hypercorrection. And if you’ve read my previous episode of Grammar Roast, you’ll notice it’s becoming quite the theme.
Hypercorrection is when writers, believing themselves to be correct, make errors. Sometimes gross errors. And when nobody stops them, these errors start appearing wherever there is text, only to be eaten up and s…pat out by other eager writers. I hate to say it, but Vice is full of it. And even The Guardian, oh ye of correctness, is a regular culprit.
My hypothesis is that somebody, sometime in the last decade or so, felt somehow uncomfortable placing full stops and commas inside their quotation marks. Who knows? Perhaps it was that school friend who loved snogging his girlfriend in front of you.
As a result, by textual butterfly effect, they spawned a whole new era of dirty punctuation third wheeling. Then, it only took one official smart arse to call it the British way for it to stick. Call me crazy, but… yeah call me crazy, I’ve just spun out a whole article on this.
On which side of the quotation mark fence do you stand? Feel free to rant in the comments!
Until next time, Cunning writers.
In the mood for more reading? Check out my articles here.