Thursday, September 24, 2009

It's Good To Be Punct(uation)al

Rather than continuing with their discussion of why Male Perspective Guy, aka my husband, Dave, feels's "Anatomy of the Male Mind" may be promising more deliverables from said psyche than available, RBTB contributing editor Becke Martin invited MPG to put whatever gray matter he's got goin' for him to good use in celebrating National Punctuation Day!

If you check out the site of NPD punctuation poobahs Jeff Rubin and Norma Martinez-Rubin -- they of the fab Official Punctuation Day Meatloaf and Cooking Contest -- suggest pithily and with what many an editor's beaten from my copy with a digital sledgehammer, the serial comma before that derned "final 'and,'" that they're all about:

"A celebration of the lowly comma, correctly used quotes, and other proper uses of periods, semicolons, and the ever-mysterious ellipsis."

Now, I dig the serial comma, and still pause with an almost mournful hemisemidemisecond of silence for my lost love for want of its use; I do so adore the lengthy sentence in which serial commatization, which is, indeed, a word if I say it is, can make the difference between being understood and being considered a run-on sentencer and one of whom many might consider not well acquainted with Mssrs. Strunk and White.

Yet an academic like Gwendolyn Pough -- aka romance author Gwyneth Bolton, she of the hot, fire-fightin' Hightower mens -- probably knows everything there is to know about proper punctuatin', seein' as she's an English prof at Syracuse U, and tomorrow's visiting professora, wrapping up Back to School Week 2: Scholars on Romance!
Just for fun: Feel free to play with all the punctuation in my column! Tell me why you'd change anything that drives you crazy. What's the grammar rule that drives you nuttiest because you either don't know it, or do know it and everyone else messes it up all the time?


LizbethSelvig said...

You know me Michelle: a good-story-might-trump-good-writing-but-I-don't-have-to-like-it kinda girl. I got dubbed a "grammar nazi" years ago, even though I would never go toe-to-toe with William Safire on a double dog dare.

Sure we could have fun with a couple of your graphs and that one funky colon, but I think I'll just smile and nod. You are the Queen Bella.

Meanwhile, one of my biggest pet peeves is the misuse of apostrophes. Every time I go into a store and see, "CD's on sale," I want to scream "What, exactly, is the CD selling???"

I also cringe at misplaced modifying phrases. "Walking down the street, the tree always got in her way." That's not punctuation--but it's (not its) a grammatical relative.

Anyhow--thanks for the NPD shout-out. A day to warm the cockles of my heart.

Becke Davis said...

I am such a punctuation geek, I was really excited to find out it was punctuation day! I bought copies of Lynne Truss's books for my friends, and I have my dog-eared copies of all three Strunk and White books next to my computer.

My daughter apparently inherited the punctuation gene. I recall one memorable night when she was in high school -- she and the guy who was her co-editor on the h.s. paper went out on the town, correcting the spelling and punctuation on the signs outside the local gas stations and convenience stores.

(Thankfully, they did ask for permission -- and ladders.)

When they told me about it, it just warmed the cockles of my heart.

Of course, this is the kid who, at age five, used to start ranting every time we drove past a place in Lake Zurich (it may still be there, Michelle) called the Koffee Kup. No alternate spellings for that kid!

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

lizee, I happen to know your punctuation and grammar, em, 'issues.' Some might say obsession, but not I. I tried to use some punctuation that might have folks on either side of the fence, as it were. For instance, punctuation within or outside of parenthesis? Well, I'd say there aren't many times one needs parentheses... Then, quotation marks inside/outside a colon?

I do cringe at the " 's " on plurals, but I've rec'd notes from my kids' teachers with those. thing is, my kids teachers have made my kids pretty smaht, so I can overlook it if my kids aren't doing it. I'm certainly not going to edit another adult who's not paying me to do so.

Howza bout punctuation when writing a collective family's name, perhaps on a sign hung on the door. Is it The Buonfiglios? Or "The Buonfiglio's" I'm all for the former. Unless the sign means, 'hey, look! This is the Buonfiglio's joint!" Is that what it's supposed to mean?"

The Reading Frenzy said...

I aint got nothin against grammer and punctuasions!

Jill Kemerer said...

There's nothing funnier than a comma-phobe who unintentionally writes a doozy. For example: As she reached for her Coke cockroaches swarmed around her plate.

Without the comma, I'm under the impression there's some strange entity called "Coke cockroaches :)

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Becke, thanks for the heads up on this. One of my fave columns over at is the grammar column. I also love Grammar Girl. Can't remember what expert site she's on, but I always google her for advice.

I have a girlfriend likeyour daughter who gets bs when she reads creative spelling. Give her a classy with a K, and she practically strokes out. I'm a big fan, however, of cheez puff. I mean, if it's orange and powdery, it's cheez, right?

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

by the way, I'm pretty sure it's heads up w/no apostrophe, but that's one you always see w/the apostrophe...

Oh, becke, didn't I once send you a memo demanding you put book titles in parenthesis and meant quotations? yikers.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

oh, good God! As a Coke worshipper, that mortifies me! But I giggle so often over sentences like that, too, Jill! The ones you have to re-read to figure out. And they're so funny, and I wonder how an editor missed it, yet I'm glad s/he didn't cause I get to giggle. It's not like it makes the book bad, it's just a tricky kind of sentence that many of us write w/out thinking. Of course, some of us never think when we write, thankyouverymuch.

Tiona said...

I am a little bit of a punctuatio natzi, as it were, as well as spelling. It used to drive me batty, but not too much anymore. What does bother me, though, are too many commas. People have a tendancy to use too many and it does tend to get overloaded.But, anyhew, everyone makes mistakes.

Tiona said...

QB, I think it would be "The Bounfiglios", no apostraphe, but an "s" cause there's more than one of you peeps, hehe.
I got to thinkin and in fact, Suzanne Brockmann, who is the queen of slang and using things like that to characterize her characters, as well as text mssging and things have made me not such a punctuation natzi. In fact, like you, Michelle, I just read a book that was missing part of a word that they somehow missed, but instead of driving me batty, I just shook my head and went on. Those editors work hard. they deserve a break now and again.

Becke Davis said...

The page in my Strunk & White I always have to check is single quotes and double quotes and which goes inside the period and which stays out. I will never in a million years remember that without checking.

Michelle - quotation marks, parantheses -- hey, it's all the same to me! My daughter is the future editor, I just write.

Becke Davis said...

And that would be "parentheses."

LizbethSelvig said...

It's always heart-warming to find fellow grammar fiends. As an aside, I just saw a t-shirt I must have. I like this "new term" better than ever: "Grammar Ninja: Ruthless Deadly Articulate."

Michelle you've totally got me going on the 'colon inside or outside of a quotation mark'? I've looked in two books (I'm such a geek) and can't find a reference. Now it'll keep me up all night. LOL

Yes, it's "Buonfiglios" if you mean "These are the Buonfiglios." The Buonfiglio's could have the apostrophe if you intend it to mean "The Buonfiglio's House" (or joint as you said.)

Don't get me going on teachers who send things home with mistakes in them -- they take points off for spelling and grammar errors on the kids' stuff. Ummm, get it right.

I, too, passed on this annoying gene to my daughter. She was editor of her HS paper and worked for four years on her college paper (and then became a vet not a grammar 'ninja' - what gives?) Her HS Journalism teacher once told her, "Jennifer, it just doesn't matter, we don't have time for you to be that meticulous. You don't have to catch every error."


Yeah, I need a 12-step program!

amy kennedy said...

Commas? I used to fear them, but Michelle has shown me the error of my wayses. But, I just read 10 pages of a manuscript to my local RWA chapter (everyone who's there gets a copy) and it's always said, "Don't edit grammar, punctuation, etc." They said that, didn't they Ms. LizeeS. Can you guess where this is going?

LizeeS, you know I don't care, frankly, I'd rather know what you thought was wrong. And here, I thought I knew what I was doing.

I walk by an apartment comlex with this sign: Lets Talk.

No. I will never talk to you. Until you add an apostrophe.

Becke Davis said...

I'm old fashioned with comma and hyphen usage. I have one editor who refuses to publish a hyphen or a semi-colon unless I can absolutely convince her it's necessary, so I've learned to cut down on those (mostly).

And while my speech is liberally peppered with exclamation marks -- as are my emails -- in my "real" writing I rarely use them. Em dashes are my downfall; I can't write or speak without them.

Apostrophe misuse bugs me, but misspelling bothers me more. I was in line to pick up something at the store the other day, and I noticed a fancy printed sign asking their customers to "bare" with them during renovations. I was sorely tempted to go buy a felt tip and correct it, but I was afraid I'd get arrested for Disturbing the Sign or some such thing.