Friday, May 20, 2011

ALOTT5MA FRIDAY GRAMMAR RODEO II:  Ben Yagoda believes there's a time and place to put punctuation marks outside quotation marks:
The British way simply makes more sense. Indeed, since at least the 1960s a common designation for that style has been "logical punctuation." The best way to grasp this is to look at an example, such as what Slate commenter Dean Hamer wrote under a recent article about PBS and NPR:
[I]ronically, given the anecdote about "Tales of the City", PBS is the ONLY widely available channel that has any serious LGBT content; e.g. documentaries such as "Ask Not" and "Out in the Silence".
"Tales of the City" and "Out in the Silence" are units—consisting of the words and the quotation marks. Insinuating a period or comma within the unit alters it in a rather underhanded manner. American style is inconsistent, moreover, because when it comes to other punctuation marks—semicolons, colons, exclamation points, question marks, dashes—we follow British/logical protocol. Dean Hamer would pass muster in any U.S. newspaper or magazine, for example, if he were to write: I am a big fan of "Tales of the City"; did anyone else see "Ask Not"?

...By far the biggest fount of logical punctuation today is Wikipedia, which was started by two Americans but whose English-language edition is by and for all English-speaking countries. The site's style guide notes that "logical punctuation … is used here because it is deemed by Wikipedia consensus to be more in keeping with the principle of minimal change." That is, if you put a period or comma inside quotation marks, you are wrongly suggesting that the period or comma is part of the quoted material, and thus you have "changed" it.
However, Yagoda notes: "When I asked [the Modern Language Association's Rosemary] Feal and Carol Saller, who oversees the Chicago Manual of Style, if there was a chance their organizations would go over to the other side, they both replied, in essence: 'How about never? Is never good for you?'"

Survey says!  By a 60%-40% margin, y'all are cool with the British way.


  1. Dan Suitor11:13 AM

    I am completely with Wikipedia on this one. The purpose of quotation marks is to denote an unimpeachable unit, be it quote or title or what have you, and to add punctuation to that unit could pervert its intended meaning. Furthermore, it's much more logical to have concluding punctuation (periods, question marks, commas for clauses) on the outside of the quotation mark.

    Plus, you know, it just looks better.

  2. Benner11:41 AM

    It may be more correct, but I still can't get used to it.

  3. Punctuation outside the quotation marks makes me itchy, and makes me assume the writer doesn't know any better.

  4. I'm with those that want their punctuation inside the quotation marks...but honestly I know it's because I am a creature of habit. It's what I was taught, so it's what I look for and it seems wrong to me otherwise. That said, I understand the logic behind the counterargument.

  5. tortoiseshelly12:00 PM

    If I'm being honest, I could go either way here, though I'd probably tip towards the logical punctuation. I have more of a dilemma with punctuation/parentheses.

  6. ChinMusic12:13 PM

    This approach just makes sense.  My only question (which I admit, might be addressed if I clicked on the links) is what happens when the quoted material does contain punctuation.  Do you add additional punctuation after the quotation make to denote the end of the sentence?  No matter what the answer to that questin, I would endorse this approach.

  7. Robin1:19 PM

    This is one of the things that I really didn't like doing for law review, but over the course of two volumes I got  brainwashed into thinking it is absolutely correct.  Calling it "logical puncuation" is kind of obnoxious, though.

  8. isaac_spaceman3:50 PM

    No matter how sensible and logical her comments, and they usually are thoroughly both, I always think that Robin is shouting them and waving her arms like a crazy woman when she says them, because of the avatar.  I read the above as "THIS IS ONE OF THE THINGS THAT I REALLY DIDN'T LIKE DOING FOR LAW REVIEW!!!!!?!?!!! AAAARGH!!!!," etc.