Re: Comma splQuote Marks (Was: )

Subject: Re: Comma splQuote Marks (Was: )
From: Gary Merrill <merrill -at- HYPERION -dot- PDIAL -dot- INTERPATH -dot- NET>
Date: Wed, 10 Jan 1996 03:09:49 GMT

> "Huber, Mike" <Mike -dot- Huber -at- software -dot- rockwell -dot- com> writes:

> In this example, it doesn't make much sense. But consider:
> Type "12-AZ,*," and then press the enter key.
> Should the operator include that final comma, or not?

This is an excellent response (and is virtually identical to one
I provided to a correspondent in email). Fundamentally, my approach
is that in "formal writing" I use the "usual" conventions concerning
punctuation and quotation marks. But note that these conventions
are a rather unfortunate area of English grammar. The conventions
are different for each of the follow three classes of punctuation:

Commas and periods
Colons and semicolons
Question marks and exclamation marks.

This lack of uniformity and consistency bespeaks a poor grammar, but
alas, it is our own.

> It's a bit ugly, but it's not a matter of sloppiness, and often not
> a writer's choice.

I do not agree that it is ugly. In fact, I find it much more attractive
than the odd and arbitrary distinctions I just listed. In "technical
writing" in which the distinction between use and mention is critical,
I use a different rule for quotes and punctuation: include within the
quotes all and only the characters that the resulting quotation name
is intended to denote. Thus,

In referring to frozen water we use the word "ice", which has
three letters and contains no commas.

as opposed to

In referring to frozen water we use the word "ice," which has
three letters and contains no commas.

which has a *very* odd look to it. In technical subjects we sometimes
need a special grammar for special purposes, keeping in mind that one
of the primary roles of any grammar is to achieve clarity and precision,
and to enable the reader to grasp the meanings of our sentences with
a minimum of puzzlement over their forms.

In many (but not all) cases it is possible to work around this problem
by avoiding quotation marks entirely and replacing them either with a
special font or with display. Thus,

Type

12-AZ,*

and then press the enter key.

But this is not an approach that is likely to receive universal endorsement.

----------
Gary Merrill


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