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Your Way versus the Official Way

24/04/2012

I don’t like American punctuation.

The official approach to punctuation is “inconsistent and illogical,” such as the requirement that the comma in this sentence is included within the quotation marks. It makes no sense to me at all.

I like my punctuation to be “consistent and logical”, as if I’m writing code. For example, I want to add the closing quotation mark first, before adding the comma as a separator. I’ve been a developer. I like things to make sense.

In my book Management 3.0 I used the Official Nonsensical Punctuation (ONP). I desired to do so, because with my first book I felt the need to do everything “right”, as it was expected of a professional author.

With my new booklet How to Change the Word, and on my blog, I prefer to use Common Sense Punctuation (CSP). I believe I earned the right, because at least I proved I can also do punctuation the correct way, if needed.

If you want to do things “your way”, then go for it. But at least make sure you know why. And prove to the world that you know how to do things the “official” way, so we all know that you know what you’re talking about.

This article is written by on in Individual Improvement. Jurgen Appelo is at Happy Melly. Connect with Jurgen Appelo on .

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  • http://profile.typepad.com/johngoodpasture John Goodpasture

    Jurgen, as an American, and a writer, I agree with you on the usage. Here seems to be the reason: (taken from http://grammartips.homestead.com/inside.html)
    “And just why, you may ask, do they belong there? Well, it seems to be the result of historical accident. When type was handset, a period or comma outside of quotation marks at the end of a sentence tended to get knocked out of position, so the printers tucked the little devils inside the quotation marks to keep them safe and out of trouble. But apparently only American printers were more attached to convenience than logic, since British printers continued to risk the misalignment of their periods and commas.”
    P.S. I like your book on change; I got if from Lulu.com

  • http://herdingcats.typepad.com Glen B. Alleman

    Adding to John,
    Whenever we have to use a question mark or an exclamation point with a sentence that ends in a quotation, we follow the dictates of logic in determining where the question mark or exclamation point goes. If it is part of the quotation itself, we put it inside the quotation marks, and if it governs the sentence as a whole but not the material being quoted, we put it outside the quotation marks.
    When it comes to commas and periods, though, logic doesn’t enter into the equation, at least not in the United States. Universal American usage places commas and periods inside the quotation marks, regardless of logic.
    This rule applies even when the unit enclosed at the end of the sentence is just a single word rather than an actual quotation.
    The only exception is when that last little item enclosed in quotation marks is just a letter or a number, in which case the period or comma will go outside the closing quotation marks.
    Keep in mind that this comma and period inside the quotation marks business is strictly American usage. The British don’t do it that way. They are inclined to place commas and periods logically rather than conventionally, depending on whether the punctuation belongs to the quotation or to the sentence that contains the quotation, just as we do with question marks and exclamation points.
    So your conjecture that the use of a comma inside or outside a quotation mark is ill-logical is not supported by the grammar rules. But in non-American usage, you’re likely applying the British rules.

  • Jeff Lucas

    Jurgen – I liked your comment about “proving you can do it the official way”. That is a bit of corporate jujitsu that is applicable to many areas, including software testing. The times I was faced with a stubborn product management team that insisted on a test case checking approach to testing, I started by doing it “the official way” then showed them how exploratory testing finds many more defects that would have been delivered to the customer. Once I proved myself to them, improving the testing process became easier.