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Craft Improvement

Punctuation Peeves for the Holidays By Gil the Grinch Around my house, the end-of-year holidays are a time for family, football and festivity. But my editorial mania always finds a way to tinkle on the mistletoe. Everywhere I turn, it seems, punctuation errors shine through like tinsel on the tree. I transform into the punctuation Grinch. I’ve identified some of these punctuation flaws in bold type in the following holiday-related quotations. Exclamation Points It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags! - The Grinch My doting Aunt Mary Ann uses ALL CAPITAL LETTERS AND A GAUDY DESDEMONA FONT in her emails. It’s the equivalent of reading the noise fingernails make when scratching a blackboard. I get the same sensation of being screeched at when I read a piece overloaded with exclamation points. Alas, you can’t diss your octogenarian aunt, and you certainly can’t blaspheme Dr. Seuss. I’m all for making a strong point, but does the point always have to be an exclamation? I think not! Apostrophes Happy Holidays from the ElderS’ to the Lackey’S. - The Elders Because the apostrophe indicates a possessive, I’m immediately thinking to myself, “from the Elders’ what?” and “to the Lackey’s what?” As flattered as I am to receive mementos spotlighting babies, puppydogs and merry maxims, I am flabbergasted at all the unwelcome apostrophes. Even Tiny Prints, a leading website for personalized cards, finds it necessary to warn folks against using an apostrophe to indicate a Page 8

Photo provided by Gil Lackey

Gil “the Punctuation Grinch” Lackey

plural. I have a pile of cards confirming it’s a widespread blunder. Comma and Period Placement with Quotation Marks Auld Lang Syne – The song’s Scots title may be translated into English literally as “old long since”, or more idiomatically, “long long ago”, “days gone by” or “old times”. Consequently “For auld lang syne”, as it appears in the first line of the chorus, is loosely translated as “for (the sake of) old times”.

- Wikipedia

I realize it’s only Wikipedia, but somebody had to try hard to violate this rule five times in two short sentences. This epidemic is going to drive this Grinch straight to the egg nog. It’s everywhere, even in the big newspapers, in prominent magazines, and on television. I’ll never understand why this is so prevalent since the rule is so simple. Unlike question marks or exclamation points, you don’t even have to think continued... SEOPA News / November-December 2012

Craft Improvement about it. Always place a comma or period before beginning or ending quotation marks. Unless you live in England, there are no exceptions. Santa says, “you’ll get ashes and switches if you don’t follow this rule.” One Space After the Period Bless, O God, the Hanukkah lights, that they may shed their radiance into our homes and lives. Make us ever worthy of Thy love and Thy blessing, our Shield and our Protector. Amen

- The Union Prayerbook for Jewish Worship

I know I’m going to rile some of the timeworn newspaper scribes, but the rule is unequivocal; leave only a single space after the end of sentence punctuation. Back in the days of monospaced fonts (when all typewriter characters took up the same amount of space), it made sense to type two spaces after a period at the end of a sentence to create a visual break. But when typing on a computer, most fonts are proportional fonts, which means that characters are different widths. The extra spacing is often distracting and unattractive. It creates “holes” in the middle of a block of text – trapped white space on a smaller scale. It’s rare to encounter the double space writer these days, but what seems to be more the norm is random accidental double spaces or even two spaces between words in the middle of a sentence. Just be vigilant. Look






No Comma Before “Because” Hark, now hear the angels sing, a king was born today, And man will live for evermore, because of Christmas Day. - “Mary’s Boy Child” - Without even thinking, people often put a comma before “because.” If the intent of the above sentence SEOPA News / November-December 2012

is to state that Christmas (the birth of Jesus) caused man to live for evermore, then there’s no reason for a comma here. To be fair, the comma in this case is probably inserted after “evermore” because the song calls for a pause. The rule is that adverbial clauses are treated like simple adverbs, so that an adverbial clause in the predicate, or in “normal” position, would not normally require punctuation. In most sentences, a “because clause” is essential to the meaning of the sentence, and it should not be set off with a comma. However, in a sentence where the adverbial clause introduces ambiguity, a comma is needed for clarity. Even more preferable to the use of a comma is to move the clause out of the predicate. Okay, so maybe all that gobbledygook sounds a bit complex. To simplify, if you need to put a comma before “because,” your sentence probably needs to be rewritten. Just because. More Apostrophes He sees you when your sleepin’ He knows when you’re awake He knows if you’ve been bad or good So be good for goodness sake

-“Santa Claus is Coming to Town” -

The “your” that should be “you’re” is a mistake I sometimes make if I get in a hurry or if I’m emailing or texting. Be mindful that “there’s,” “who’s,” “it’s,” and “you’re” are all contractions, not possessive pronouns. “Goodness’ sake” is actually an exception to the rule. The rule states that normally, singular common nouns ending in “s” are followed by an apostrophe and “s” to show a possessive: “the witness’s response” or “the hostess’s invitation.” It’s worth noting that proper nouns ending in an “s” use only an apostrophe without adding another “s”: “Santa Claus’ reindeer” and “St. Nicholas’ generosity.” The “Associated Press Stylebook,” however, continued... Page 9

Craft Improvement states that regardless of whether the word ends in an “s,” like “goodness,” or just ends in an “s” sound, like “conscience,” don’t add an extra “s” if the next word starts with an “s.” So it’s always “goodness’ sake,” “appearance’ sake” and “conscience’ sake.” Too Many Commas And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. - The Bible, Luke 2:4-5 (English Standard Version) I’m not going to get caught sticking my tongue out at anything scriptural, so let’s just say I got lost somewhere between Galilee and Bethlehem. If a sentence gets too choppy, snap out of the comma frenzy and rewrite it. Break long sentences down into small-

er ones. Some folks are still afraid to start sentences with “but” or “and.” But it’s really okay every once in a while. Save the Punctuation Grinch Christmas Day will always be just as long as we have we. Welcome Christmas while we stand, heart to heart, and hand in hand. - “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” Punctuation, whether erroneous or correct, is a direct reflection on us and the publications for which we write. Although my radar seems to detect more errors during the holidays, it’s definitely a year-round problem. As those with a mainstream voice, you can take steps to reassure the punctuation Grinch. After all, his small heart would grow three sizes if he saw all of Whoville, hand in hand, striving to punctuate with precision.

Photo by Rob Simbeck

Dan Wrinn of Ducks Unlimited, left, talks “nets” with Frabill representative Pat Kalmerton. Page 10

SEOPA News / November-December 2012

Punctuation Peeves  

A short punctuation article with a Christmas theme that I wrote for the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association

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