Tag Archives: punctuation

From here-eternity

You’ve probably noticed the Word Nymph has been in hibernation lately. Frankly, this spring hasn’t produced a fertile crop of linguistic irritants. And those peeking their heads above the soil haven’t seemed worthy of shining the sun upon (says she, ending her sentence acceptably with a preposition).

However, there has been one little allergen under my skin for some time; finally, it took a recent project for me to slap some Benedryl on it.

Like pollen in springtime, this one appears everywhere. Flyers, bulletins, invitations, ads, the posts of the most learned of Facebook friends.

“The show will air from 4:00-5:00 p.m.” “The dinner will be held from 6:00-9:00.” “The store will be open from 10-6.” In each of these examples, either something needs to go or something needs to be replaced. Do you see it?

The easiest fix would be to delete from, and say simply that the show will air 4:00-5:00 p.m. Alternatively, we could substitute the dash with to or until. The show will air from 4:00 until 5:00. Or we could say that the store is open between 10:00 and 6:00. But never—ever—should we use from and a dash.

Why is the from-dash so prevalent?

No matter. The subject springs from a conversation with a client last week about the correct way to punctuate ranges of dates and times. If a piece of punctuation is to indicate the time between Monday and Friday, is it a hyphen, an en dash or an em dash?

Typographically speaking, most authorities–the AP Stylebook, The Chicago Manual of Style and countless online sources–accept either a hyphen or an en dash. Preferring to save hyphens for hyphenation, I’d argue for the en dash. And while most authorities specify that there are to be no spaces on either side of en dash (unlike the mighty em dash, which prefers no space around it), there appears to be an exception for dates and times. Monday-Friday, 8:00-10 a.m. Or Tues.-Thurs., 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. And that’s little a, little p, with periods, by the way. The big A and big P are disappearing from modern temporal expression, and my eyes aren’t misting over their departure. (Apparently, Robert Bringhurst, the guru of modern typography, disagrees. Let’s postpone further discussion of that until I receive my copy of The Elements of Typographic Style.)

Nonetheless, I was tickled that my client cared as much about this wonky issue as I did and was especially psyched to back up my hunch with hard data. Most of all, I was proud that my client wasn’t the least bit tempted to pull a from-dash.

Happy Spring, which runs from March 20 to June 21.

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A sign from above

I received an e-mail reminder last week of the coming of National Punctuation Day. As soon as there’s a nip in the air, I start planning a celebration and contemplating the meaning of these literary symbols in our lives.

Of all my punctuation peeves, one near the top is overuse of the exclamation point. I believe this should be reserved for special occasions, for exclamations or situations that are truly remarkable.

Example? How about galaxies colliding?

According to NASA, two galaxies–VV 340 North, and VV 340 South—have begun to come together.

Because it’s 450 million light years from here, we can’t see it with the naked eye. Thanks to the Chandra x-ray observatory, this collision is revealed. In punctuation.

That’s truly remarkable!

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St. Mary’s Bells

Having spent hours looking up a rule of punctuation, I’m giving up and turning to you, smart and learned readers.

The question is: How does one punctuate the possessive form of a name that is already possessive? Put another way, when the name of a store or a church is possessive—ending in apostrophe-s—and is used in the possessive, is a second apostrophe added? How about another s, while we’re at it?

Here’s an example: The name of the store is Trader Joe’s. I want to refer to their produce. If I say “Trader Joe’s produce is always fresh,” that appears to refer to the produce of one man, Trader Joe. It would make sense to write, “Trader Joe’s’ produce is always fresh,” but we all know English does not always make sense. And that second apostrophe looks like a second thumb on one hand.

Here’s another example: Say St. Michael’s Catholic Church, familiarly called “St. Michael’s,” has a website. Would we refer to it as “St. Michael’s website?” If so, would that not imply that St. Michael himself had a website?

As I said, I’ve looked high and low for the answer, in the collection of style guides that live on my shelves and on the Internet. There are volumes about the possessive of plural nouns, proper nouns and words ending in sibilants (I had to look up sibilant). When I found a tip about double possessives, I thought I was on to something, but it had nothing to do with my question.

Please don’t suggest I flip it around. “The nuts at Trader Joe’s” would be cheating and I’d like to crack this one.

It looks as though the person who named the film The Bells of St. Mary’s took the easy way out.

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Got to dash

Is there any particular punctuation mark that you tend to use as a crutch? You know, that one written widget you rely on when you’re not sure what to use?

Everyone has one. My husband uses the ellipses with reckless abandon. In lieu of a comma, colon, semicolon, even a period, those three dots heavy-handedly pepper his text.

Mine is the em dash—hands down.

Laura Hale Brockaway of Ragan’s PR Daily dubbed the em dash the most chivalrous punctuation mark of all time. I’ll tell you why in a moment.

For those who don’t recognize it by name, the em (as in the letter m, also used as a measurement of print space) dash is the longer of two kinds of dashes, formed in type by typing two consecutive dashes on the keyboard, without any space on either end. In most word processing programs, it doesn’t appear until you type a space after the word following the em dash. It’s fun; try it. (Brockaway cautions her readers to not do it this way; however, my attempt at her suggested computer command fails.)

In most instances, in English anyway, the em dash is longer than—and has a different purpose from—the en (n) dash, its shorter single cousin, with a space on either side.

I like the em dash because it steps in—with with class and strength—when other forms of punctuation can’t quite stand up to the challenge. Brockaway calls it chivalrous because Eats Shoots and Leaves author Lynne Truss calls it “a courtesy designed to help readers to understand a story without stumbling.”

Used in lieu of a comma, a set of parentheses or, I dare say, a semi-colon, an em dash introduces an interruption for the purpose of a side explanation or a pause for emotion, as well as many other utile functions.

Here, read her piece about this mighty mark—she tells you everything you need to know about the em dash. If you enjoy a bit of drama, scroll down and read the comments. Someone accuses the em dash of bullying the semi-colon while another feels the en dash has been dissed. Good stuff.

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Corrective conundrum

A few weeks ago, my husband left a calling card of sorts on my desk. It was a clip from an advice column in The Washington Post, in which a man complained about his girlfriend’s correcting his grammar and pronunciation. I never asked my husband whether he intended this to be an idea for my blog or a hint that he was relating to the poor bloke whose girlfriend corrected him—and only him—in front of others.

In the meantime, over the weekend, an opinion piece by Slate writer Michael Agger appeared in the Washington Post Business section. The piece cited instances in which companies receiving online reviews of their products and services corrected the spelling and grammar of their posting customers. Agger questioned the ethics of such practices, raising the issue of altering the authenticity of the online review process. Companies argue that sloppy posts, including favorable ones about their products or services, make the company look bad and, hence, impede sales.

When I wrote a piece about correcting others and being corrected  last February, I got a sense of how my readers feel about it. But correcting what is posted as an online review is different. Or is it?

I must confess here that I occasionally do the same thing with this blog. Sometimes when a reader posts a comment and makes an inadvertent mistake in spelling, grammar or punctuation, I go in and make a minor correction. Not all the time, and not drastically. And I never alter the content.

Unlike text-tweaking online retailers, I don’t correct mistakes because they make me look bad. I do it to save commenters from potential embarrassment. You might say that I edit their comments to help them make their points more effectively. For example, if someone is preaching about the importance of good grammar, and misspells “grammar,” I don’t believe it’s a sin to go in and correct the spelling. Or if there’s a simple typo, I might go in and fix it.

This said, it doesn’t mean I don’t bristle when I see a comment lacking any upper case letters or essential punctuation, but I give benefit of the doubt when I suspect comments are generated on a mobile device. Occasionally, however, this has precipitated sidebar conversations with my loved ones, suggesting they reacquaint themselves with their friend, the apostrophe.

Where to draw the line with a red pen? Discuss.

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Oh happy day

Greetings, salutations and best wishes for the most festive of National Grammar Day celebrations.

How will you honor the occasion, after digesting your daily dose of Word Nymph, of course?

My personal observance of the day involved entering a copy editing contest sponsored by one of my favorite resources, Copyediting, whose tagline is “because language matters.” Amen.

The contest closed at 9:00 a.m. yesterday. Now I wait for winners to be announced. Make that “Now I wait for Copyediting to announce the winners.” Active voice.

This past year we have celebrated National Punctuation Day and National Dictionary Day together, so it’s only fitting that we be together online today. Be, present subjunctive.

We come to this place throughout the year to ask questions, admit our faults and, yes, occasionally, to preach. We laugh at the idiocies of language, at each other and at ourselves.

This reminds me of the motto of my church, which begins with “We welcome the faithful, the seeker and the doubter.” At the risk of being irreverent, and/ or breaking the eighth commandment, I think it applies in this place as well.

Word Nymph invites you to honor this day by celebrating the notion that language does indeed matter. None of us is born knowing language. Is, singular. We learn to communicate as children and we continue to learn as adults. We believe, we seek, we doubt. And I like to think we have good fun in the process.

Happy National Grammar Day. May the occasion bring us all continued thirst for delightful language.

Oh, and if I win that copy editing contest, I’m taking my Quick Check Editorial Reference Cards and heading out for a wild time.

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Hearts and smarts

If the pinky-red glow emanating from Seasonal aisle at your grocery or drug store hasn’t gotten your attention, allow me to be a killjoy and remind you that there is one shopping month left until Valentine’s Day.

As you mull your options, might I suggest a gift for the wordie in your life? How about a four-pack of instructional grammar posters? You don’t even need to set foot in the Hallmark store.

I’m not quite sure how to describe The Oatmeal, except perhaps as an online treasure chest of satirical entertainment—blog posts, cartoons, quizzes and musings on assorted topics, including grammar and punctuation–and great merchandise.

For the reasonable price of $32, you’ll be sure to get a juicy Valentine smooch with a quartet of 18”x24” posters, including “How to use an apostrophe,” “How to use a semicolon,” “10 words you need to stop misspelling” and “When to use i.e. in a sentence.”

Or, if you’re expecting and haven’t chosen a nursery theme, this is the best thing to come along since Baby Einstein. Really, what’s the baby going to find more useful later in life, the theory of relativity or there/their/they’re?

Each poster includes a detailed and annotated diagram walking the viewer through the logic of the assigned topic.

If grammar isn’t your thing, you probably aren’t reading this blog, but consider The Oatmeal’s posters on other useful topics such as “15 things worth knowing about coffee,” “10 reasons to avoid talking on the phone,” “Why it’s better to pretend you don’t know anything about computers” and “6 reasons bacon is better than true love,” though you’d want to save that one for another occasion.

I’m thinking about ordering one for my home office: “Why working at home is both horrible and awesome.”

But the grammar pack is calling…

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