Category Archives: Grammar Faerie

Raging against the grammar machine

I’ve been getting lots of “S”-figured markings in my papers this semester, and probably throughout my seminary career. They always indicate that I should switch the order of a quotation mark and another point of punctuation. The rule is that generally punctuation at the end of a quote is placed inside the quotation mark. Here is Turabian’s more nuanced rule:

In American usage, a final comma or period always precedes a closing quotation mark, whether it is part of the quoted material or not (A Manual for Writers, 6th ed., 61).

I immediately run into trouble. I don’t like this rule and I refuse to follow it. There are some cases where I persist in thinking that a period or comma is better placed outside the closing quotation mark. Turabian goes on,

Question marks and exclamation points precede quotation marks if they pertain to the entire sentence of which the quotation is a part (A Manual for Writers, 6th ed., 61).

In my opinion, the same rule should apply to periods and commas, and that’s generally how I do it.

By the rules, I would write a made-up sentence from a Hebrew paper like this:

This is a better understanding of the word normally translated “peace.”

Why should such a short quotation get all the punctuational goodness? This is how I would actually write it:

This is a better understanding of the word normally translated “peace”.

Doesn’t this make more sense? Doesn’t it look better? My beef is essentially an aesthetic one. It’s a valuable element in the writing/reading experience. More than that, however, why should the rule be different for periods and commas?

Joel also pointed out that following the rule in lists results in back-to-back quotation marks.

…the words translated as “peace,” “judgment,” “righteousness,” and “justice.”

Here is how I would write it:

…the words translated as “peace”, “judgment”, “righteousness”, and “justice”.

My beef is an aesthetic one and it has mainly to do with quotations that contain only a few words. With longer quotations, I will generally follow the rule.

What do you think?

On the Y-word

Just to get it off my chest:

There is great variety in the way people spell the word “Yeah”.  I notice this every time Dixie writes “Ya”, which is what she means for the word I spell “Yeah”.   As I see it, the spelling should be as follows:

Yeah for “Yeah, I know” or “Yeah, that’s right.”

Yea (pronounced “yay”) for “Yea though I walk through the valley death” (in other words, most people shouldn’t be using this word anymore)

Yay for “Yay! I just won the lottery!”  or “Yay! The Captain and Tennille are reuniting!” 

As far as I’m concerned, “Ya” is always an incorrect spelling.  In my mind, it’s pronounced rather like a combination of the first half of “yawp” (or “yop”) and “yap”.  It’s different than “Yeah” and cannot be substituted for it.

Dogma.

Of course, I have begun to recognize in recent years that language is fluid and in many respects is simply what you make it.  But still…here I stand.

What say you?

What’s wrong with this headline?

Something doesn’t seem right about this CBC.ca headline:

Man who almost froze to death grateful

Grateful for…almost freezing to death?

Why the editors chose to not add “for rescue” at the end of the headline is beyond me. (Well, technically I suppose it should be “for being rescued”, I guess, because otherwise he might be talking about a rescue he did.)

Of course, headlines regularly flout the rules of grammar.

Update: When all is said and done, that headline is better than this Eagle & Child post.

Blogging and punctuation

Is a space considered punctuation?  A space is essentially nothing, I suppose, so perhaps not.

A beef I’ve had with all blogging apps since the beginning is that they seem to ignore the rule of grammar and punctuation (in typing) which states that after a period/full stop one should leave two spaces, not just one space as one leaves between words in a sentence.

I’m guessing that it’s a coding issue, but I would have expected it to be resolved by now.  Perhaps no one else has noticed.  Or they have and they don’t care.  I just find that it makes paragraphs look a little crowded.

It feels good to utter.

“Shallack”.

What a great word. It’s so well put together that it not only sounds nice, but it also feels good saying it. Speak the word—Shallack—and feel your tongue slap the roof of your mouth.

Shallack. The Eagle & Child’s Word of the Month.

The Anal-retentive Blogger

Folks, the card you use to pay for stuff directly from your bank account is an “Interac” card, not an “interact” card. It is a trademarked name (Interac) rather than an action (“to interact”). It’s an important distinction, and yet in the greater scheme of things it doesn’t really matter.

Also, this is my 1500th post. Lame, eh?

Quotation mark abuse.

Niche blogs are where it’s at. The other day I came across this blog (via somebody) dedicated to the lower-case L as found in otherwise all-caps writing. So perhaps I should start a blog dedicated to misuse and abuse of quotation marks.

I was at a local grocery store this morning and at the till they had some sort of entry form with the following written underneath it in permanent marker:

YOU COULD “WIN” A PARTY BARGE

I’m imagining the manager and his or her associates sitting in an office laughing and slapping each other’s backs over this hilarious gag, “We’ll make them think they’re entering to win this party barge, but really they’re not really winning anything—they’re just ‘winning’ it! BWA HA HA!”

Would that it were so. The reality is more dire: these quotation marks were used for emphasis, which seems to me to be the most common misuse of said symbols. I may have mentioned before the other local grocery store with a slogan that says

“Quality” fine foods

I have no qualms with that store and their food and service may be “quality fine” (bit of a double positive there), but the quotation marks around “quality” give it a sinister air.

Have people forgotten about the underline, italics or even asterisks for emphasis? This way “WIN” becomes WIN or WIN or *WIN* or a combination of all three.

I believe there was an episode of Corner Gas which revolved around a sign which offered “Free” something. I may have fallen in love with the show after seeing that one.

Most wit is parenthetical.

Rule #6 in the humourous list “How to Write Good” (via) is “Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.”

If that really is the case, I don’t write good. I can’t help myself: I love a good parenthetical remark. I like to pepper my writing with them. (I just broke rule #3. And now I’ve broken #6 again, but not with wit. Or is it?)

Most wit is parenthetical, is it not?

Rule #7 goes on to say, “Parenthetical words however must be enclosed in commas.” Is a word parenthetical if it isn’t between parentheses? If it is, why is a parenthetical remark acceptable when it is between commas but not between parenthesis? And what of the dash? (Let me throw in a parenthetical remark here to explain of what I speak: (parenthetical remark) vs. , parenthetical remark, vs. —parenthetical remark—.)

I believe the dash is generally used for interjections rather than parenthetical asides, but one is still remarking parenthetically when one uses the dash.

Do you speak Canadian?

Apparently I don’t. This morning I was reading Uncle John’s Supremely Satisfying Bathroom Reader (though not where you’d expect) and I came across an entry about Canadian English. The reader is asked to translate a paragraph of supposedly Canadian gobbledygook and then we are presented with a series of definitions, as follows:

  1. Beer-slinger: bartender
  2. Hoser: a lout
  3. Rubby: “a derelict alcoholic known to mix rubbing alcohol with what he is imbibing”
  4. Molson muscles: beer belly
  5. Booze can: an illegal bar
  6. Sh*t-disturber: one who likes to create trouble
  7. Gravol: “the Canadian proprietary name of an anti-nausea medication”
  8. All-dressed: Food served with all the optional garnishes
  9. Cuffy: Cigarette butt
  10. Browned off: Fed up or disheartened
  11. Two-four: A case of beer
  12. First Peoples: The politically correct term for Canadian Indians
  13. Bazoo: Old rusted car
  14. Fuddle duddle: A euphemism for “go to hell”
  15. Keener: Eager beaver
  16. Steamie: A steamed hot dog
  17. Gitch: Underwear
  18. The Can: Canada
  19. Schmuck: Verb meaning “to flatten”, as in, “He got schmucked on the road”
  20. Bite moose: Go away
  21. Garburator: A garbage disposal unit
  22. Wobbly pop: Alcohol
  23. Keep yer stick on the ice: Pay attention
  24. Skookum: Big and powerful (a west coast term derived from Chinook jargon)” (p. 97-98, numbering mine)

Bob & Doug have done more harm than good. Apparently Canadians spend most of their time speaking about alcohol-related subjects. I quite enjoy uniquely Canadian terminology, but I don’t care for stereotypes and, worse, inaccuracies.

Part of the problem is that most of the words in their list (words 3, 5, 9, 10, 13, 14, 16, 18, 20 and 24) are local terms —that is, they may be used in parts of Canada but they are not Canadian as such; I have never heard any of them in normal conversation (just like someone from Eastern Canada probably wouldn’t know what a “bunnyhug” is). Many of the other words are pop-cultural phrases: hoser and keep your stick on the ice are used by Bob & Dough MacKenzie and Red Green, respectively, but not often used in regular conversation. All-dressed, Gravol and Garburator are not, I am sure, uniquely Canadian words at all.

In fact, the only words on this list that I hear in at least semi-regular conversation are two-four, keener, gitch and schmuck (the definition of which, by the way, I take issue with).

That the list includes such ridiculous phrases as bite moose and The Can suggests to me that the writers of the article took a trip to Toronto, asked a bunch of jokers for some Canadian terminology, who then made a bunch of stuff up. Bazoo? Browned off? Maybe in rural parts of the Maritimes.

The truth is, I think there are relatively few Canadianisms in the sense of words and phrases used across the country. Off the top of my head (other than the ones I recognized in the above list): toque, double-double, tobaggan, loonie, twoonie, and eh? And people from other parts of the country may not recognize or use toque.

The sad fact is that Uncle John’s writers are perpetuating a stereotype of Canada, a myth. There are relatively few truly pan-Canadian words and phrases, I think. Or I just don’t know very many and am not as Canadian as I’d like to think I am.

If you can think of any other pan-Canadian words or phrases, add them in the comments. People posting local and phrases words will be belittled. (Just kidding.)