Thursday, January 22, 2015

Let My People Go

Steven Pinker:

No discussion of the illogic of punctuation would be complete without the infamous case of the ordering of a quotation mark with respect to a comma or period. The rule in American publications (the British are more sensible about this) is that when quoted material appears at the end of a phrase or sentence, the closing quotation mark goes outside the comma or period, "like this," rather than inside, "like this". The practice is patently illogical: the quotation marks enclose a part of the phrase or sentence, and the comma or period signals the end of that entire phrase or sentence, so putting the comma or period inside the quotation marks is like Superman's famous wardrobe malfunction of wearing his underwear outside his pants. But long ago some American printer decided that the page looks prettier without all that unsightly white space above and to the left of a naked period or comma, and we have been living with the consequences ever since.

...These acts of civil disobedience were necessary to make it clear where the punctuation marks went in the examples I was citing. You should do the same if you ever need to discuss quotations or punctuation, if you write for Wikipedia or another tech-friendly platform, or if you have a temperament that is both logical and rebellious.

Logical and rebellious! Why, that's me! Having thus heard the call, I cannot help but answer it!

In all seriousness, I've been waging solo guerilla warfare for years, long before I ever knew there were other fellow freedom fighters out there. I just like to periodically remind those who have been brainwashed by the fascist American system that you're seeing a principled punctuation rebellion in my writing here, not a string of careless errors.