Introducing Wednesday Word Tip

So a week and a half ago, I wrote a post on Blogging: What’s the Point? And then I skipped a post on Sunday. Which might have looked like I was backing away from blogging, but honestly, I just flat-out missed it.

Yet I have been thinking more and more about my blog and what I want to offer. So without further adieu, I’m giving this a shot!

Wednesday Word Tip

For a long time on my blog, I had Wednesday Words and then Amazing Word Wednesdays in which I gave grammar tips, explored words and phrases, and tried to make the hodgepodge language of American English semi-understandable. I’ve had a few people wistfully refer to those posts, with almost a nudge-nudge in their comments. And I appreciate that! I guess it means I was doing something right.

In the interest of time and to reach more people, I’ve decided to try out a Wednesday Word Tip — which will be a quick video with a vocabulary word, a phrase, or a grammar usage highlighted and explained. It could also be a book-related video. We’ll just see how this goes…

And I’m still working on A Round of Words in 80 Days! Here’s my weekly update.

ROW80 Update

We’re supposed to be all wrapped up by tomorrow, but I will probably need until the end of the week to feel really good about things.

1. Finish editing Sharing Hunter, young adult contemporary novelSo. Very. Close. My read-through showed a few issues, but nothing that stopped me cold. I’m tweaking now and super-excited about this story!

2. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. So let’s just move this goal to the next round, shall we? 😉

3. Read 12 books. Read Sass and Serendipity by Jennifer Ziegler and Unleashed by Rachel Lacey. That makes 13 books for the round!

4. Attend RWA Conference and Day of YA in San Antonio and follow-up as needed. Just about done. A thread or two still dangling, but I can tie it all up pretty easily.

What do you think of videos and vlogging? What word tips would you like me to cover? And how was your week?

Punctuation Changes I’d Like to See

Welcome BACK to Amazing Words Wednesday. I took a hiatus for a bit while working on some other projects, but I’m back to walk us through the labyrinth of language to see what we can find.

Today’s post, though, is really about what we would not find. Language and grammar rules are not etched in stone. They can change as need and usage dictates. Now this doesn’t mean that Jane Citizen gets to ignore proper grammar and make up her own rules. The whole point of grammar and punctuation is to facilitate communication, which requires some mutual parameters. Just as we have road rules to make sure we get where we want to go, grammar and punctuation help us achieve our goal of effectively communicating and receiving messages.

But I’ve got a few suggestions for punctuation I’d like to see changed.

Punctuation marks

Drop the spaces between ellipses dots. The standard for using ellipses is to insert spaces between the words and dots, as follows:

“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be . . . we shall never surrender.” – Winston Churchill

Have you noticed that accepted style finally changed to nix the two spaces between sentences in favor of a single space? Scalable fonts allowed better spacing, making the additional space unnecessary.

Likewise, I suggest that the extra spaces between ellipses are unnecessary and a real pain when dealing with line breaks. It would save time and assist formatting to finally drop the spaces between ellipses dots.

Add a comma before “because.” For reasons I have never fully understood, the standard has been to insert a comma before a conjunction in a compound sentence EXCEPT when using the word “because.” So I would write:

“She shirked her duty, but I wasn’t surprised by her laziness.” YET . . .

“She shirked her duty because she was lazy.”

Why is there no comma before “because”? It’s one of those rules that simply doesn’t make sense to me. Grammar works best when it’s consistent, so could we please add a comma before “because”? It would make the rule consistent across the board, alleviating the need for poor explanations for this exception.

(Daily Writing Tips does give suggestions for when to use a comma and when not to.)

Adopt a punctuation mark covering both question and exclamation. How many times have you seen this someone’s writing:

?!

There are times when a question is indeed exclaimed. As in:

“What were you thinking?!”

“You want me to go into the woods where the serial killer is?!”

“You like roaches?!”

You’re really supposed to pick one or the other. If a question is exclaimed, grammar experts say to use the exclamation point, and we’ll all figure out it’s a question. There is a whole other punctuation mark we could use. It’s called the interrobang, and it gets rid of any confusion and that moment of the author wondering just where the line is drawn between questioning and exclaiming. Let’s use it.

Interrobang punctuation mark
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Get rid of the comma with “also” and “too.” This has started to disappear, but it’s still common enough to see a sentence written as “She ordered a piece of cake, too.” It’s grammatically correct to include a comma before the words too and also.

But it’s superfluous. The meaning of the words too and also are so clear as to not be confused with other meanings such that a comma is required to set them off. I simply don’t think we need it.

Now it’s your turn: What do you think of my suggestions? What punctuation changes would you like to see? 

Professor Punctuation Takes on Quotation Marks

Back in May 2012, we were introduced to Professor Punctuation on Amazing Words Wednesday when she covered the proper usage of the apostrophe.

cool teacher
Professor Punctuation

Thankfully, she’s returned to explain the proper use of quotation marks. Please welcome back our favorite word nerd professor, Professor Punctuation!

PP: Man, it’s been too long–like we left off with an ellipsis. But hey, I’m here now. So while I sip my cup of doctored java, let’s talk quotation marks.

Quotation marks seem pretty straightforward most of the time. You want to say something, you put the dialogue in the middle of quotation marks:

“Where does your tattoo say?” he asked.

“It reads, ‘I hate tattoos,'” she said. “You know, irony.”

Simple, huh?

What gets confusing is when you introduce other punctuation along with quotation marks, or you start using quotation marks for titles, or you indicate a wink-wink meaning with quotation marks–like using air quotes if you were conversing. Let’s take a look at these instances.

Quotation Marks with Other Punctuation. The rules are a little different with American and British usage. I’ll cover the Americans and let the Limeys take care of themselves. (They’re more than capable.) As usual, we had to make it a little complicated.

So pay attention closely, or just bookmark this page for later reference–especially that bleary-eyed guy in the back.

Commas and periods always go inside the quotation marks, whether or not they were part of the original quote.

“A true friend is someone who lets you have total freedom to be yourself,” Jim Morrison (comma not in original quote)

Jesus said, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (periods originally inside quote)

Colons and semicolons won’t appear at the end of a quote, so they go outside the quotation marks.

I recited, “There’s no place like home”: that famous quote from The Wizard of Oz.

Our biology teacher wanted us to read “The Life Cycle of the Plant”; instead, I cracked open my copy of The Catcher in the Rye.

Question marks, exclamation points, and dashes go inside when part of the original and outside when not.

“O happy dagger!” Juliet said.

Who said, “To be or not to be”?

Quotation Marks with Titles. Quotation marks are used to enclose titles of short works–such as short stories, poems, TV episodes, speeches, etc. But NOT longer works, such as books, television series, and films, which should be italicized.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell where a title would fall. For example, when an Oscar speech starts out with the hope that its title could fit in quotes and moves into the world of italics before someone finally, mercifully, sends the smiling girl out to collect the verbose award winner and walk away to the sound of goodbye music. Or when your start writing your brilliant epic novel and suddenly realize that the story worth telling is only about 10,000 words long after all.

But most of the time, we know what would get quotation marks and what would get italics (or in the past, underlining).

“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost

“Once More, with Feeling” from Buffy, the Vampire Slayer

But NOT “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy or “Saw XLIII” (what number are they on?)

Quotation Marks as Wink-Wink. Sometimes quotation marks are used to emphasize an ironical use of words. For instance, if your good-for-nothing, drug-dealing cousin offers you some “donuts” with air quotes, he ain’t selling you donuts. Tell him you get high on life and help him find the nearest rehab center.

The quotation marks in such usage indicate a hidden meaning. The word in quotations is a euphemism, substitution, or even the opposite of what the speaker/writer wants you to understand.

People, however, are starting to throw out quotation marks all over the place like they are confetti from your New Year’s party. Thus, this sign is confusing.

Is “No Sitting” really the intended meaning? Did we just get a wink-wink message? Quotation marks here are unnecessary. The sign makers could have used NO SITTING to highlight their point.

Congress is using some “creative” math to work out the issues.

Joan Rivers had some “work” done.

But NOT to the police officer who stopped you: Yeah, there’s just “medication” in that bag.

Quotation Marks with Understood Phrases. One last tip about saying hello, thank you, and other typical phrases in a sentence. There is no need to include quotation marks in a sentence like, “I sent a thank you note.” Yes, the note said “thank you” somewhere in it, but this meaning is less of a quotation and more of a description. The quotation marks just get in the way.

I’m calling to say hello.

We wish you a Merry Christmas.

But NOT: They send their “best wishes” to all of you.

Now that I’ve had a lotta latte and we’ve covered the basics, I need to head home. My main man is waiting for me so that I can “research” my romance novel, Hippie Hubbies Are Heavenly.

JG: Well, on that note I guess we’ll take leave of Professor Punctuation. Our heartfelt thanks for giving us another lesson on the proper use of punctuation.

What other questions do you have for Professor Punctuation about the use of quotation marks? Do you get tripped up anywhere? What do you think about the overuse of unnecessary quotation marks?

Sources: The “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks; The Elements of Grammar by Margaret Schertzer; Chicago Manual of Style

Introducing Professor Punctuation

Welcome, Prof Punc!

Today, we are welcoming a newcomer to Amaze-ing Words Wednesday. From our local college faculty, I now introduce Professor Punctuation. I’ll hand over the mic now. Thanks for coming, professor.

I know, I know: I don’t look like a professor. However, trust me when I say that I know my stuff. Forget the chalkboard and textbook: All you need for today’s lesson is your eyeballs and my expertise. And call me Prof Punc.

Punctuation is the part of language expressed by:

 , ; : ‘ ” . ? !

And today’s topic is the apostrophe.

First, imagine that you’re an apostrophe. How would you feel? Misunderstood? Misused? Well, the Doubleclicks pretty much cover it with a song. Grab your latte and take a listen.

So there are several ways that poor apostrophe gets abused. Let me help you and that ol’ apostrophe out with some tips.

If you want a plural, leave the apostrophe out of it. It’s rude to wake up an apostrophe and make him stand around before an s at the end of a word when he could be sleeping in. How about we look at some examples?

I swear there’s not a theme here. These are simply the best photos that came up. But it does make a girl wonder. Anyway, if you mean a bunch of something, you don’t need to bother an apostrophe for that plural. Simply add an s.

EARTH-SHATTERING ANNOUNCEMENT. This is true with names as well! So if your last name is Smith, and there are a bunch of you at your family reunion, you have a gathering of Smiths, not Smith’s. The invitation should read, “Please join the Smiths for their son’s bar mitzvah.” The welcome mat should say, “The Smiths.” It’s just plural. If your name ends with an s or a z? Hey, toss an e in there like you would for any other s or z-ending word: “The Hesses” or “The Gutierrezes.”

This is also true with decades. You lived through the 1990s. Some will debate that you should put an apostrophe in there as “1990’s.” But really, it’s just plural, so why would you? You don’t need it.

If it’s only a verb, leave the apostrophe out of it. I felt the need to include only one photo on this one. Renee Zelwegger represents this gigantic oops well enough for all the misguided out there.

Seriously, Renee? Apostrophe is never part of a verb word itself. If the apostrophe hangs around verbs, it’s because there is a pronoun contraction involved. Example? You are = you’re. It is = it’s. He will = He’ll. Get it? But if you’re simply making a verb plural, it’s the same rule as with plural nouns: No apostrophe.

If you have a contraction, call an apostrophe. An apostrophe often takes the place of letters that are missing. When we use a shortcut to say two words together, then the apostrophe is happy to step in. So you are becomes you’re. Where I live, you and all make y’all. There are plenty of other examples. A picture is worth a thousand words?

I have no idea what the rest of the billboard says. Come up with your own.

If you have a possessive, get an apostrophe. Apostrophe loves coming around for possession. If someone owns it, slap an apostrophe in there. Thus, it’s Bill’s date, Tawni’s mohawk, your parents’ love life, and my ex-boyfriend’s sister’s husband’s jail sentence. You get the idea. This is also why the following businesses have an apostrophe in their name.

A special note on it’s/its. This is the face palm moment for a lot of you, right? When do you use “its” and when do you use “it’s”? One is possessive and one is a contraction, and I just said that contractions and possessives get apostrophes. So which is it?! Where does the “its” come into play?

This chick needs to relax.

Well, just with the contraction here. When you mean it is, bring on that apostrophe for the contraction and make the shortcut it’s. If a pronoun is possessive, however, you leave out the apostrophe. So it is his, hers, mine, yours, ours, theirs, and its.

Now get out there and use those apostrophes right, students! Just ask what could happen if you don’t know where the apostrophe goes.

I hate grading papers over the weekend, so no homework. In fact, I never give real homework. Your homework is to be smart and stay cool. As they say, peace out.

Thanks Professor Punctuation — I mean, Prof Punc — for that important lesson. I remember watching an Angel episode in which a lawyer presented a business card that read “Attorney’s at Law.” If only the TV show makers had consulted you beforehand . . .

Now what do the readers think? Where do you struggle with the use of an apostrophe? What mistakes have you seen people make with an apostrophe?

Wednesday Words: Should You Correct Friends?

My feet shuffle across the hard floor, as chairs creak and a cough echoes in the half-empty room.  I clear my throat, lean over to the microphone on its rickety stand, and announce:  “My name is Julie, and I am a correcta-holic.”  At least that’s what I confessed in my post about Obsessive-Correcting Disorder, although I don’t really think being a stickler for correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar is a disease that requires diagnosis or treatment.   Still, I can imagine that others may not want to send a note, shoot an email, or chat with me on Facebook after I have admitted to naturally noticing such errors.

Rest assured, however, that the grammar sticklers I know, including moi, are not mentally grading your work like an English teacher with a red pen.  (Do they still use red? I heard that injures self-esteem.)  There is a difference between published works and informal communication!

If I pick up a novel and notice ten errors in the first chapter, my thought is, “This was written and/or edited poorly.  This author and/or publisher did not care enough about the reader to clear up errors so that the book reads smoothly.”  (And I often toss the book aside like unidentifiable leftovers from my fridge.)  Advertising flyers, business signs, newsletters, and websites get the same level of merciless scrutiny.  These are professional publications that should be edited and proofread!

However, if I open my email inbox and someone has shot me a “Youre blog was terrific! Cant wait to read more posts!” I’m excited that they sat down and penned me a personal note!  If I notice the errors at all, I figure it’s because our lives are harried and they wrote in a hurry.

Now granted, if almost every Tweet, Facebook post, or email from someone is riddled with errors, I will figure that this person could use a remedial writing course; English is their fourth language; or they simply don’t care.  And it will unnerve me like an itch between my shoulder blades that I just can’t reach.  But when it comes to informal communication, a good rule is judge not, lest ye be judged!

I’ve read over things I sent out to a friend in a hurry and been appalled at an egregious misspelling or the absence of a crucial word.  My most recent ridiculous error was tweeting back to another author (Wendy Sparrow – check out her blog here) about how much I enjoyed reading Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss and typing, “Stickers unite!”  (Duh.  Sticklers.)  Thankfully, with friends, we fill in the gaps and determine the meaning nonetheless.   To err is human, to forgive divine!

I proofread my emails, blog posts, tweets, etc. because I consider those few seconds well spent.  But errors still spill through the cracks.  And if I corrected every informal message that I received, I would waste precious time that I could devote to more productive pursuits; stop receiving texts from my children; and be that itch between the shoulder blades that my friends and family just can’t reach.

You see, this is why I don’t think I have a problem that requires intervention.  (So my family can stop planning one, thank you very much.)  I can turn that correcting part of my brain off when it isn’t useful to the communication.

At least, most of the time.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, I think!), my husband and children are still subjected to my periodic correcting, regardless of context.  The rest of you are relatively safe.

What do you think about errors in professional publications vs. informal communication?  How do you approach it?

Round of Words in 80 Days Update:  1,038 of 5,000 words for the week; found serious timeline error in manuscript so pulling out hair and working that out; keeping up with three blogs at week (despite AT&T accidentally yanking my internet today).  All in all, progress!