03 February 2008

Sunday Judgment II

Today's subject: punctuation.

Let's demonstrate today's bifurcate Sunday Judgment topic with a few interesting links from today's Sunday Times: "Nuclear Leaks and Response Tested Obama Senate," "A 'Bold' Step to Capture an Elusive Gas Falters," and "It Really Takes Years of Hard Work."

Let's be brief.

(1) In American usage, commas and periods go inside the quotation marks. For cryin' out lout, it's not that difficult. I don't necessarily agree with the rule (it introduces some ambiguity), but the alternative is aesthetically atrocious.

(2) The serial (or Oxford) comma is crucial for eliminating ambiguity in some cases. The AP Style-ists forbid it solely for space reasons, and even they admit that sometimes it's necessary. Courtesy of the far superior (though admittedly harder to use) Chicago Manual of Style, here's an example I tweaked a bit to better demonstrate my point:

The meal consisted of soup, salad, macaroni and cheese, and rice and beans.
The point is that when you've got simple and compound items in a list, we need all the commas we can get to impose a little order. There are no doubt more subtle and sophisticated examples out there as well. Holler if you have some.

Sorry to go all Lynne Truss on you. I've never agree with "zero tolerance" policies of any kind, but I admit that it's easy to get worked up about some off this stuff. As I've said before, when you've worked as a copy editor, it's easy to take some of this stuff personally.

By the way, the latter link above contains some crucial remarks on the hot subject of innovation:
“The most useful way to think of epiphany is as an occasional bonus of working on tough problems,” explains Scott Berkun in his 2007 book, “The Myths of Innovation.” “Most innovations come without epiphanies, and when powerful moments do happen, little knowledge is granted for how to find the next one. To focus on the magic moments is to miss the point. The goal isn’t the magic moment: it’s the end result of a useful innovation.”

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