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    I am Qrystal; or at least, that's my dot-name! Har har. (My name is really Crystal, but that's not as internet-searchable; hence, switching the C for the little-used letter Q.)

    I am here because I enjoy writing. I do this mostly for myself, but I also have a passion for helping others learn things from the things I write. Now that I am done my Ph.D. in Physics, I am stepping away from academic research so that I can indulge in some creative ways to share my knowledge and inspire the appreciation of scientific thinking in others. I am also working as a tutor, which is one of the jobs I've most enjoyed doing in my life so far.

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  • Logical Quotation Style

    Posted by Qrystal on June 24, 2009 at 17:44.
    Category: Concepts. Tags: .

    It is counter-intuitive … to mutilate literal strings with characters that don’t belong in them.

    — Some #funwithgrammar from a guide to hackers’ writing style, which describes how some quirks are for the sake of humour but others are for the sake of clarity.

    Here, we are exploring an aspect of writing style that is entirely about clarity: should quotation marks include punctuation, or should the punctuation be left outside? Their argument is that a “literal string” is the entirety of what is quoted, and should not include the end-of-sentence (or end-of-clause) punctuation unless the quote actually includes such punctuation. I agree with this, but the population as a whole seems to be divided on what to believe.

    Wikipedia’s style guide agrees with me, at least, and even calls it “logical quotation” style. This style is also sometimes attributed to the British, although apparently some British publications use the so-called American style, placing periods and commas inside the quotation marks even when they don’t logically belong there. (I may be biased, but as soon as logic is evident, I can’t help but support it.)

    Today, the logical quotation style was used today on twitter by Brent Spiner, sparking controversy among his followers. When he retweeted the fact that someone “corrected” him, he got even more corrections flooding in. (I tried to be one of them, but I was too slow.)

    The argument discussion inspired me to look up more info on this dilemma. The Wikipedia page on Quotation Marks provided me with a surprising revelation: the less intuitive way of punctuating around quotation marks was actually reasonable once, back when typesetters used the end-quotation mark to protect the much smaller comma and period characters. (This was back when typesetting involved actually setting physical character pieces into place in the printing press.)

    Now, of course, there is no need to do this, but doing so is still considered “correct” because it has become ingrained in various style guides, whose sole purpose is to encourage consistency and clarity in writing. However, if the other way is more clear (more “logical”, if you will), and there is no longer a need to protect the cute-wittle-periods-and-commas, why should anyone continue doing it?

    Some people claim that the comma or period placement is purely a matter of style. This does seem to be the case, but I still hold to my opinion that the logical way makes more sense (hence calling it “logical”). (Also note that in the previous sentence, I kept the period outside of the parentheses as well; I believe that this is also logical, and yet it is not logical to do so in this current sentence.) I guess some people simply have their style too ingrained to change to something that is arguably more logical (especially to those of us arguing in favour of this style point — see here for a full-fledged argument showing both sides).

    Wikipedia also mentions that scientific and technical publications (even in the U.S., contrary to most American grammar style guides) preferentially place punctuation outside the quotes, unless it was part of the quote itself. Is this enough to convince anyone that this style is more logical? What about the fact that many other languages* use the more logical style, and it is only English (or even its bastard son, “American English”) that has the controversy? (* – I don’t actually know this fact for sure, but it has been used in other arguments.)

    There are indications that the internet is leaning towards demanding that the logical way is the better way, but this will take time, especially since the typesetters’ (aka “American”) style seems to be so ingrained in so many people.

    As one person astutely pointed out,

    The only real rule of grammar is “be consistent”.

    Amen. And thank you for using the logical style in expressing this.

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