Category Archives: Punctuation

On National Punctuation Day: an ode to a punctuation mark

 

It’s National Punctuation Day! To celebrate, Glossophilia is sharing Eric Nelson’s poem about the punctuation mark we all love to hate; the one that probably suffers the most misuse, abuse and aggro in our daily verbal lives. It’s like the viola of the punctuation orchestra: although it’s the butt of everyone’s jokes, and no-one really knows how to play it properly, we’d be so lost without it. Long live the long-suffering long-tailed apostrophe, and those that protect it fiercely from extinction. Continue reading

A fortune known as Bunny

Originally posted in May 2011.

Following up on my earlier post about misused em dashes, here’s a good example of a situation in which a couple of those dashes might have come in handy.

An article published in today’s New York Times about former presidential candidate John Edwards facing criminal charges ( you can read it here) includes a poorly-worded and badly-punctuated sentence that bestows a nickname on a million-dollar fortune:

“Investigators have said that the money came from two top donors — Rachel Mellon, the heiress to the Mellon fortune known as Bunny, and Fred Baron, Mr. Edwards’s finance chairman, who died in 2008.”

A more careful copy-editor would have corrected the punctuation to make the sentence read as follows:

“Investigators have said that the money came from two top donors: Rachel Mellon, the heiress — known as Bunny — to the Mellon fortune, and Fred Baron, Mr. Edwards’s finance chairman, who died in 2008.”

Or more simply — and avoiding the em dashes altogether by using a well-understood practice of indicating monikers — the sentence could have placed the offending nickname in quotation marks between Ms. Mellon’s first and last names. Poor — or rather rich — Bunny.

***

 

Dog’s bollocks

You learn something new every day. Today I learned something about one of my favorite phrases. Do you know what “dog’s bollocks” meant originally? (I bet you don’t.) Here’s a clue: it represented what the dog is apparently doing in the picture above. And, perhaps more importantly, do you know what the phrase means today? Continue reading

Is Mary Queen of Commas right about Mary Queen of Scots?

François Clouet: Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-87) / Wikimedia Commons

At the end of her recent (and fabulously entertaining) New Yorker piece about Mary Queen of Scots the movie, Mary Norris throws in a little punctuation lesson about the comma (or lack of it) in the Scottish queen’s name. “Mary Queen of Scots – both the regal title and the movie title – takes no comma,” argues Norris. “There is more than one Mary; the title is restrictive. She is Mary the Queen – you know, like Cedric the Entertainer or Chance the Rapper. Off with the comma!”

But is Mary Queen of Commas right about this? Continue reading

One space or two with your full stop?

Update, 6 May: the Washington Post has recently weighed in on this decades-long debate. Are you a single-spacer or a doubler?  (The post that follows was originally published in August 2011).

During the process of editing (or “izing”, as we call it at 21C) a recent press release, we were asked by an impressively detail-oriented client to clean up a certain inconsistency in the document: there was a mixture of single spaces and double spaces after the periods (or full-stops, as some of us know them) at the end of sentences. The client had no particular preference for one space or two, but they rightly wanted a choice to be made – a rule to be followed – to maintain consistency.

Who would have thought that the question of this tiny little space – barely wider than a fat ant’s body – would inspire such discussion, disagreement and general excitement amongst my colleagues at 21C? Could it be because our usage of spaces after sentence-ending periods can actually date us? Continue reading

A short proofreading quiz on National Proofreading Day

From Wikimedia Commons

Fancy trying your hand at a bit of proofreading, on National Proofreading Day? See if you can catch all the spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors in the five sentences below. A clean copy will be posted tomorrow. (Clue: you should be able to spot at least 10 errors, and a few more.) Good luck! Continue reading

In the news … (June 10)

trump

TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky. In usage and grammar news this month: Trump is unaware of the hottest portmanteau of the year; a very sinister punctuation trend; Roald Dahl’s weird words get their own dictionary; a grammar mistake on a London Transport ad (can you spot it?); Texan Republicans either believe that most Texans are gay, or they just can’t string a sentence together; the name of a famous bridge has been spelled wrong for more than five decades; a comedian lands herself in trouble with a mispronunciation; and some awesome Bachelorette malapropisms. (And if you’re not sure what a portmanteau or malapropism is, check out Glosso’s earlier post here.) Continue reading

All the Presidents’ day

Gilbert Stuart Williamstown Portrait of George Washington / Wikimedia Commons

Gilbert Stuart Williamstown Portrait of George Washington / Wikimedia Commons

Well, which is it? Presidents Day, Presidents Day or Presidents Day? Is the name of the American public holiday, which we’ll be celebrating on Monday, spelled with an apostrophe or not? And assuming it is a possessive day, i.e. belonging to either the first or all of our presidents, where should the punctuation be placed accordingly? Continue reading

16 movie title bloopers

 

gotgame

He did? Get game? Or does that mean he has got game — currently — whatever “game”-without-an-article means? As in, “He’s got that thing called game”? Or did he get that article-less game last week, on the same night that he got milk? Maybe it becomes apparent when you see the movie (which I had the chance to do this evening when it popped up on my TV guide), but I think we can safely say that its title lacks clarity — unless game is an abstract quality that he acquired some time in the recent past…

Here are 15 other movie titles that could have done with a good edit. If you can’t work out where they went wrong, check out their copy-edited versions below. Continue reading