Sunday, July 30, 2006

I have a confession

I have never thought of myself as a grammar or punctuation stickler. In fact, I have been adamant in telling others I don't obsess about it. I, frequently, experiment with punctuation, especially commas, dashes, and parentheses, to tweak the meanings of sentences and alter the flow of words. I, sometimes, begin sentences with a conjunction to make a point. Typical paragraph construction often seems restrictive to me. And (see), I frequently toy with sentences that are way too long to be standard. I like language and the structure the rules provide, but I have never thought of myself as fussy. In fact, I thought of myself as adventurous and tolerant.

My first clue that I wasn't being completely honest with myself should have been my habit of editing my own blog. I read, spell check, and publish. Then, the insanity begins. I view my blog and start editing and I can't help myself. I tweak and reword so often that I am embarrassed, but not as embarrassed as when I realize someone may have noticed a mistake. Another hint should have been the many grammar and language loving books like Woe Is I by Patricia T. O'Conner, Et Cetera, Et Cetera by Lewis Thomas, and most recently Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss that line my library shelves. Most of these books were gifts, which should have been another clue, because if the people I love have noticed that I would enjoy books such as these, I must have a problem. All that being said, my epiphany occurred last night.

I got in the bed early with my most recent book purchase, Eats, Shoots & Leaves. I bought it because Becky recommended it. I began reading with amusement, chuckling quietly to myself at someone else's obsessive compulsive behavior. Then, I was accosted by the British use of quotation marks. Though I knew using a comma or period outside of the quotation marks in certain situations was acceptable, albeit British, I flinched. Each and every time a punctuation mark fell outside the ending quotation, I felt uncomfortable. I twitched, squirmed, reached for the white-out. I could barely enjoy my new book because of the punctuation. I, in fact, skipped into another section of the book to get away from the offensive punctuation. All this discomfort coming from the person who staunchly proclaims tolerance seemed a bit hypocritical.

So, I admit it. I am an adventurous, tolerant grammar and punctuation stickler. I have a physical reaction to poor usage, including my own, while still enjoying subtle usage variance. So there!


JoVE said...

Funny, I actually prefer the British way. It seems to me that the comma often isn't part of the actual quotation but a punctuation mark designed to separate the quoted passage from the next clause. So it just seems more sensible for the comma to go outside the quotation marks.

Similarly if I am quoting a whole sentence and will end the full sentence of which the quotation is a part, I will put the period inside the quotation marks, because it is part of what is being quoted. But if it ends the sentence and is not the full sentence, I'll put the period outside, to indicate that I have put that period at that point, not the person being quoted.

wisteria said...

You are right. Sensibly speaking the British way seems to create a better reading. I have just been so ingrained to the American way by red pen wielding professors, I find it difficult not to pause with each punctuation mark placed outside the quotation. I was surprised by my reaction to say the very least.

In some old American texts, the quotation rules are more British. I looked because I distrusted myself.

zilla said...

You might love The Deluxe Transitive Vampire and The Well Tempered Sentence by Karen Elizabeth Gordon. These are two of my favorite books. I was delighted to receive Eats, Shoots & Leaves as a gift. In fact, I considered it a compliment.

Mom was an English teacher, but Dad was the real stickler. He would cover our teachers' newsletters with red ink and tell my mother to post them in the teachers' lounge.

I was among the 4% of my class who placed out of freshman comp at U of M.

In the past I have been a bit of a punctuation fascist, but blogging has made me a more accepting reader.

I got a giggle out of this post because after reading the post about selecting your grammar texts, I was going to suggest you simply have the kids rewrite Herman Melville's The Whale using Ernest Hemingway's comparitively clipped, staccato style.

But then I thought to myself, "Only a dork like me would find that suggestion even remotely amusing."

I think you're aces, Wisteria. Don't knock yourself.

wisteria said...

Zilla, Thanks!

I understand why your mom was not the stickler. You learn tolerance when teaching. If you encourage writing and expect to get more than one or two sentences that were not taken directly from an internet post, you lower your expectations. I never looked for perfection, just good ideas, readability and complete sentences. Even that was difficult to find. I consider all blogging a work in progress or a journal, so I expect nothing (maybe a little).

Rewriting a text sounds like a great idea! I wish I had thought of it. I'm not sure my 7 year old is ready for Moby Dick. My 10 year old probably isn't either. I, actually, used this idea (see you aren't a dork) when teaching a Faulkner piece. I wanted to show the students that the long sentences were part of the structure and that if you removed the winding sentences, you removed part of what made the novel special. If done with thought, non-standard usage is powerful.

Becky said...

So I guess the illustrated kids' version, to go with "The Elements of Style", is out of the question, eh?!

I agree with JoVE about the reasons to prefer the British style. But then she's lived there, and my half-English father (who also attended Oxford) has informed my punctuation preferences. So I guess it comes down to what you're used to and what you feel comfortable with...

Theresa said...

You and me, both! Or should that be "You and I, both!"? (or !?")

wisteria said...

Actually, I thought about the Illustrated Eats, Shoots and Leaves for the children. I really enjoyed the rest of the book.

My mother said that after she read this entry that every comma, period or other punctuation seemed larger. She asked if I had changed the font for the punctuation. I wonder if reading this had the same effect on others.