Tag Archives: punctuation

Punctuation is FUNdamental

Most major national news outlets covered the leaked angry e-mail from Alaska’s former First Dude Todd Palin to Joe Miller, Alaska Republican Senate candidate, and Tim Crawford, treasurer of SarahPAC, regarding Sarah Palin’s presidential aspirations, qualifications and possible support of Miller. But The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank got my attention, in a recent column in which he poked His-and-Hers fun at Ms. Palin’s made up word and Mr. Palin’s gross misuse of punctuation: “Will somebody please refudiate our fear that there is a serious punctuation problem in the Palin household?”

Here’s the e-mail and here’s your challenge. How many punctuation errors can you count?

Joe and Tim,

Hold off on any letter for Joe. Sarah put her ass on the line for Joe and yet he can’t answer a simple question ” is Sarah Palin Qualified to be President”. I DON’T KNOW IF SHE IS.

Joe, please explain how this endorsement stuff works, is it to be completely one sided.

Sarah spent all morning working on a Facebook post for Joe, she won’t use it, not now.

Put yourself in her shoe’s Joe for one day.

Todd

In the 80-word body of the e-mail, I count eight.

Occasionally, when I notice errors, friends and colleagues advise me to go easy on people, especially if they were not fortunate enough to go to college.

First, I am quick to volley back with the fact that some of the most articulate and punctuation-savvy people I know did not go to college. Second, I’d be the first to acquiesce to this advice if I were pointing out errors pertaining to material taught in college.

But didn’t we all learn basic grammar and punctuation long before college? Spelling certainly isn’t a university level course. Didn’t we have to master these fundamentals in order to get into college?

So, out of Todd’s eight errors, I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt on half, because it was an e-mail he thought no one but its addressees would see and also because I know as well as anyone that some errors might simply be typos.

I’ll ask the English teachers (and English students) who read this blog if they agree. Would you grade Todd on the curve? How many points off for apostrophe abuse, semicolon deficit and misplaced quotation marks? (Notice, Todd, dear, I ended my question with a question mark.)

5 Comments

Filed under All Things Wordish, News, Politics

Holiday greetings

Allow me to be the first to wish you a happy National Punctuation Day. The seventh annual National Punctuation Day, to be precise.

NPD is the brainchild of one Jeff Rubin, an author and expert in shameless self promotion. He even managed to get the holiday recognized as official in Chase’s Calendar of Events.  If you go there, you will also see that October is Self Promotion Month.

Given all the activities offered on the holiday’s website, you could be a faithful observer of this occasion for weeks.

For example, you could:

  • give yourself a refresher on the correct uses of 13 types of punctuation;
  • enter a Punctuation Haiku contest;
  • make Norma Martinez-Rubin (a.k.a. Mrs. Punctuation)’s famous Semicolon Meat Loaf, the official meatloaf of National Punctuation Day, or make one in the punctuation shape of your choice;
  • sit in on Punctuation Playtime at a participating school, and enjoy punctuation relay tag, a Wynken, Blynken and Nod punctuation contest or a punctuation rap performed by facilitators and students;
  • purchase T-shirts, latte mugs, greeting cards and punctuation posters from the official NPD website; and
  • as the Rubin suggests, take a leisurely stroll, paying close attention to store signs with incorrectly punctuated words. Stop in those stores to correct the owners. If the owners are not there, leave notes.

Or you could observe the holiday by reading some the blog posts I’ve written on punctuation.

Forgive me; I’m just gearing up for Self Promotion Month.

2 Comments

Filed under All Things Wordish, Holidays, Marketing/Advertising/PR

Painful contraction

I have long wondered about the phrase “aren’t I?” As contractions go, it runs afoul of the norm and this bothers me.

It was only recently that it bugged me enough to do some digging.

Logic would dictate that the proper phrase be “am I not?” But how would it be contracted?

“Are you not?”  is really “are not you?”and is contracted as “aren’t you?” This makes sense.

But here’s the problem. “Are” does not agree with “I” in a sentence. “Am” does:  I am. I am not. Am I not? Am not I? So then why not “amn’t I?”

Well, I consulted a lot of sources, and each took me deeper into obscurity.

This might not be the absolute truth, but what I gleaned from all I read is that “aren’t I” is incorrect but accepted. Just like plenty of words and phrases we’ve talked about here.

It also seems that, at one time, “amn’t I?” may actually have been considered correct in contemporary Scottish-English as an informal contraction of “am I not?”

Further, some say “ain’t” may have first come about as an attempt to contract “am I not” and later became used colloquially in lieu of “are not” and “has not.” Ain’t that something?

There is also a theory that “amn’t” made appearances as “an’t” in 18th century texts but, when pronounced by the British, sounded more like “ahnt” and later became “aren’t.”

I’ll bet there are readers who know the answer to this mystery and would be willing to share it with the rest of us.

Aren’t I just opening up a can of worms?

5 Comments

Filed under All Things Wordish

Apostrophe awareness

It was a sign. Literally.

I had apostrophe abuse on the brain, after my next door neighbor had sent me an entertaining video on the topic, along with a message asking, “Will this be the next Schoolhouse Rock?” Who can forget this 1970s classic? Wasn’t everyone’s favorite “Conjunction Junction, what’s your function?” Or did you prefer “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here?”

We’ve talked so much, maybe too much, about apostrophe abuse lately. Still, it’s epidemic. As I considered whether to wax critical on this overdone topic yet again, I saw a sign. 

While taking a walk yesterday afternoon, The Apostrophe Song bouncing in my head, I almost literally stumbled on this placard, as if it had come up to greet me.

Considering I believe in signs, I knew this one was telling me to share the video my neighbor had shared. I think of it as a public service announcement of sorts, increasing awareness of an abuse that still goes unchallenged and giving us the tools to fight it.

It turns out that the video was produced by Adelaide, Australia-based company Cool Rules, which produces learning tools for children. If you’re looking for an easy way to remember when the apostrophe is appropriate and when it is not, or need a fun way to teach others, or even if you just like a catchy tune, give it a listen. And if you don’t care for the pop version, Cool Rules also offers the ditty in hip hop, rock and acoustic varieties.

It’ll make you nostalgic for Schoolhouse Rock.

3 Comments

Filed under All Things Wordish, Movies, Television and Radio, Music, Technology and Social Media

Onomatopoeic punctuation

There is someone in our family who ends sentences with punctuation–when he speaks.

As in “How are you doing, question mark?” This is an affectation among many this person has; in this case, perhaps to be clever or maybe just for emphasis. I tried to stop questioning it long ago, but every now and then, along comes the whiplash-inducing oral punctuation.

In grade school, we learned to express punctuation with the tones of our voices. We end questions a little higher on the tonal scale. We raise our voices as we approach an exclamation point. But in and of itself, punctuation has no sound.

I suspect there are a number of readers out there who are fans of the late Victor Borge, the renowned Danish pianist, conductor and comedian. He died in 2000, so I’d encourage younger readers in whose childhood homes Borge wasn’t required viewing to take a look at his work. Pure brilliance.

I likely saw this routine at some point in my life, but it didn’t strike me quite so vividly as it did over the weekend, when my cousin–under 25, I might add, and a fellow wordie–shared it on Facebook.

Please enjoy it and think of Mr. Borge whenever you punctuate. How fun would it be if punctuation always came alive this way?

5 Comments

Filed under All Things Wordish, Family and Friends, Movies, Television and Radio, Music

Holy @#$%*!

I thought today we would give a shout out to some of our friends on the second row of the computer keyboard.

Symbols seem to be used more and more, as we abbreviate in our instant messaging. Please allow me to indulge in a little review of symbols and how they are used—and often, misused–in writing.

!  The exclamation point is especially effective in writing dialogue—as in “Holy backslash, Batman!” Unfortunately, the exclamation point has become overused in most other types of writing, including e-mail; in fact, placing one in the subject line can land an e-mail in the recipient’s spam folder. Exclamation points are generally inappropriate in plain text and especially in business correspondence. If the sender is emotional enough to type an exclamation point, he or she would be wise to calm down before submitting anything. 

@  Today we use the “at” sign most commonly in e-mail addresses. Before the Internet, though, it was created as a symbol for “at the rate of,” such as 10 apples @ 10 cents each = $1.  The “at” symbol is permissible in instant messaging, but please don’t ask “where R U @?”

$  The dollar sign is used in tables and in text preceding a dollar value. In text, there is no need to also type the word “dollar” if you have used the symbol. It’s either/or.  For example, “if I had $1 million” or “if I had a million dollars.”

&  Use of the ampersand (please, it’s not “ampersign”) bears some attention here, as it has gotten out of control. The ampersand is commonly reserved for one purpose:  when it is part of a company’s formal name, such as Procter & Gamble or Barnes & Noble. Style authorities point out that ampersands may sometimes be used in citations, typically, bibliographies or statute citations. Occasionally we’ll see one in a movie or magazine title or product name (e.g., Kraft Macaroni & Cheese). Just remember – the ampersand should never be used in lieu of “and,” especially in a sentence, or even in bullet points. It might seem an easy way to save space but your readers will think it looks cheesy. Because it is.

%  Another symbol run wild is the percent (one word) sign. The percent symbol is only used in tables, not in text. If you are writing and using the word “percent,” use the word “percent.” The same goes for “greater than” and “less than,” whose symbols are also reserved for mathematical notation. As with practically everything in English, there are exceptions. For example, the percent symbol is sometimes permitted in certain scientific text. The American Medical Association Manual of Style permits either the word or the symbol, noting that, in the composition of a drug, the symbol is used: “containing 0.42% hydroxyethylcellulose and 1.67% povidone.” 

*  In my mind, the most important point is this: asterisk is pronounced just like it looks, as-ter-isk, not asterick or astrick. If this is hard for you, take it apart – the last syllable is risk. Just remember, if you use an asterisk to refer to something, it must have a mate somewhere on the page—typically at the bottom—or in the section. The symbol is also a star, as in, “press star on your telephone keypad.”

Incidentally, while we are talking about pressing star, isn’t it about time we stop instructing callers to “dial” zero for assistance? If anyone is indeed dialing anymore, dialing star probably won’t to do anything except maybe break a nail.

10 Comments

Filed under All Things Wordish, Technology and Social Media

Time to space out

Hallelujah!  There is good news for middle-agers.

Indeed, there are new findings about old brains.  The good news is that, according to a new book and some additional long-term research, the brain of the average 40-to-60-year-old isn’t ready for the trash heap.  In fact, it is more flexible and more capable than previously thought.  We are even generating new brain cells, never mind how we lost the old ones.  They’re always the last place you look.

The bad news is that we no longer have an excuse for our, what word am I looking for, oh, yes, forgetfulness.

Admittedly, I haven’t yet read The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain or the 55 years of research of the Seattle Longitudinal Study, which has followed thousands of people over decades to determine how their brain function changes over time.  But findings have been featured in the news all week, with various medical experts agreeing, that the grey matter of the gray-haired isn’t to be underestimated.  In fact, it often improves over time.

It’s the flexibility aspect I find especially comforting.  First, let’s set aside any question about the adaptability of older people in life and work settings, as the overwhelming number of comments readers posted on our recent discussion of the generation gap shed valuable light on all facets.

My personal experience is that, while I believe I am quite adaptable to all sorts of new things–technologies, ideas, ways of doing things–breaking old habits isn’t easy, if simply from a mechanical standpoint.

Here’s a tiny—literally tiny—example.  I cannot for the life of me seem to break the habit of typing two spaces after a period.

Like many women of my generation, I went through formal typing training in high school.  Even if we had either high career aspirations or hopes of full-time engagement inside the home, we were told that strong secretarial skills were something we could “fall back on.”

A key rule in typing—no pun intended—involved inserting two spaces after every period.

Of course, this had everything to do with the block spacing of yesterday’s typing technology.  When modern word processing came to be, much changed.

I recall in the 1990s a colleague referring me to The Mac is Not a Typewriter, one of several manuals of style for the new age—including writing for the Web–on the matter of the double space.

I have known for more than 20 years that a second space has no place after a period, but I can’t control my fingers.  I have even gone so far as running a search on a completed document, and universally replacing two spaces with one.

The recent news about the middle-aged brain gives me hope, and takes away my old-dog-new-tricks excuse.

Perhaps I need to make a public pledge to give up the second space, just as I did on April 8th when I gave up the Oxford comma.  I have held true to that pledge, so there’s no reason I can’t retrain myself on this one.  I still think one space looks funny but then again, so do a lot of correct sentences about which I preach.

Can anyone recommend a double space support group?  I am ready to change.

4 Comments

Filed under All Things Wordish, Technology and Social Media

Centesimal celebration

I am tired of talking about me.  When I posted my first blog entry in late March, I expressed discomfort about blogs in general, because people tend to use them as platforms for talking about themselves, and I just didn’t want to do that.

Today, on the occasion of Word Nymph’s 100th blog entry, let’s take a look at some others.

If you are reading this from the Word Nymph site (as opposed to a subscription e-mail), look toward the right of the screen and scroll down just a bit.  You will see a section entitled Blogroll, and a list of half a dozen blogs I visit regularly.

But first, let’s talk about me—and why I’ve chosen these six.

I am interested in broadcast news, as a viewer of course.  Not just the Holly Hunter movie, but live television news.  I watch as much of it as a working person can fit into a day.  In Advancing the Story, veteran journalists Deborah Potter and Deb Halpern Wenger provide an enlightened glimpse into broadcast media—the art and the science, the complexities and the nuances.  Their recent piece on interviewing victims was inspired.

I am a lover of words, a lifelong learner and maker of mistakes.  I try to be tolerant of others’ mistakes but draw a big fat line between an earnest slip and steady patterns of egregious violation.  I have peeves that make me itch like a case of poison ivy.  I commend to you two blogs that illustrate blatant assaults on our language.  Please visit Apostrophe Abuse, study it and tell all your friends—be militant about it—that apostrophes do not make words plural.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, an “s” makes a noun plural, NO APOSTROPHE needed, or wanted.  My family and I are the Welches, not the Welch’s.  We are not having the Nelson’s over for dinner and we won’t be serving clam’s.  The blog will give you a good laugh and, I hope, a good lesson.  Let’s stop the abuse.

I am serious about punctuation.  What I’ve said about the apostrophe, likewise with quotation marks.  If we keep using them unnecessarily, they will become endangered and we won’t have them when we really need them—for quotations.  Please visit The “blog” of “unnecessary” quotation marks and notice how silly it looks to wrap serious punctuation around ordinary words willy-nilly.   If you want to make words stand out, there are plenty of text formats available, including italics (CTL + i), bold (CTL + b) and underline (CTL + u).  And if you must—and only if you must—ALL CAPS.  Please do not use quotation marks for emphasis.

I love English, but realize what we speak in the United States is American (I love that too).  I am also interested in all things international.  The Economist is a magazine that is read and respected by intelligent people throughout the international community.  It maintains a high standard of thought and writing, so when it launched a language blog, Johnson, earlier this summer, naturally, I signed up.  Check it out.

I love humor, possibly above all else.  My motto is “laughter heals” and I need a steady diet of it or I’ll die.  If you too need a chuckle a day, log on to The Sticky Egg.  The Egg posts every day, providing a full week’s worth of minimum daily hilarity, as the clever Carla Curtsinger muses about the entertainment biz and life in New York City.  She’ll also explain the origin of her moniker.  Be sure and check out her Blogroll.

I miss my kid.  He grew up in the blink of an eye, probably because I worked 12 hours a day and traveled regularly for the first 15 years of his life.  To bring back memories of having a child in the house, I get great enjoyment from the colorful tales of Cara Garretson, a  mother of two young kids, a gifted storyteller and a writer who works at home.  Time Out will make you smile.

But enough about me.

See you Monday.

2 Comments

Filed under All Things Wordish, Family and Friends, News, Reading, Technology and Social Media

Justice I am, without one plea

I am feeling a little Andy Rooneyish today.  I can almost hear him narrating this post.

Last month, I was handed a uniform traffic citation outside my home state.  Because there is a court date looming, I realize I am taking a risk by blogging about it.  But I can’t resist.

To recap, a state trooper pulled me over for driving 69 miles per hour in a 55 mile-per-hour zone.  Then he wrote me a ticket for 70 mph, which could have consequences beyond a simple fine.

Following this incident, I received letters from seven of that state’s law firms, pitching their services in helping me get the charge reduced or dismissed.

I finally sat down and combed through all the letters.  The first one hit me with its rash of unnecessary quotation marks, so I decided one way I’d sort the letters would be to weed out those that didn’t pass the Word Nymph test. 

Here’s where Andy Rooney comes in.  Just picture him sitting there behind his cluttered desk, amidst the open envelopes, letters and the waivers they all come with (in case you haven’t been so fortunate as to receive one).

The first letter comes from a “Community Oriented Law Firm.”  In quotes, but no mention of who said it.

The second claims, I am not a Big City law firm.  Is this supposed to be a selling point?  Or is Big City a municipality in that state?

The third letter talks about fines for running a Stop Sign or Red Light.  Capitalized.

The fourth displays the following tagline below the firm name:  honoring Him by serving those with legal challenges in our community with integrity and excellence.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The fifth one touts its postage-paid envelope for sending back the waiver:  No stamp necessary!  Exclamation point! Wow, if this saves me 44 cents, then they’ve got MY business.

The sixth letter went straight to the bottom of the stack for twice using the obnoxious parenthetical numeral.  That’s in case you wouldn’t otherwise know  – Traffic offenses generally cause insurance points to be assessed against you that will result in increased premiums for a period of three (3) years.  For example, premiums can be doubled for a traffic violation that carries four (4) points.   I’m glad they made that clear, as I was absent the day they taught us how to spell numbers.

The seventh letter begins a paragraph with, If you have not already plead guilty…  Isn’t it pled?  Or pleaded?

The reality is that, if I choose to obtain legal representation, I place my fate in the hands of one of these firms.  And I do so humbly because I am being charged with a violation that has nothing whatsoever to do with grammar or punctuation.  Traffic law is the great equalizer.

Anyone out there have a cousin Vinny?

Word Nymph will resume on Monday, after spending Sunday asking forgiveness for her irreverent headline.

1 Comment

Filed under All Things Wordish, Foibles and Faux Pas