Here’s how slipshod and self-contradictory a “respected” American publication can be.

  • Ben Yagoda’s article ostensibly advocating the use of periods and commas outside quotation marks (not a hard-and-fast rule even in British) uses neutral quotation marks:

    The Rise of "Logical Punctuation".

    Then again, this is one of those ultra-fake Web sites (the Awl is also in this group) that uses the known failure of nospace-emdash-nospace and also neutral quotation marks and apostrophes.

  • And the piece resorts to fake superscripts in an unnecessary usage of same, 16th edition. (That’s a Microsoft Word abomination.)

  • And it uses what nerds call a backtick (`) as an opening single quotation mark.

  • And we don’t end heds with periods, though of course there is a meta-reason for doing so in this case.

  • Yagoda quotes a misspelling of “darnedest” without later correction:

    Conan O’Brien, for example, recently posted:

    Conan’s staffers’ kids say the darndest things. Unfortunately, in this case "darndest" means "incriminating".

  • Yagoda ignores the fact that, in any presentation where markup is possible, the correct way to write the titles of TV shows is in italics, hence:

    [I]ronically, given the anecdote about Tales of the City, PBS is the only widely available channel that has any serious LGBT content, e.g., documentaries such as Ask Not and Out in the Silence.

    (I corrected the CAPS-AS-emphasis error endemic to half-assed prose like Yagoda’s, and the errant semicolon. One could debate the need for a hyphen at one point; can you see where?)

  • The sentence from Pitchfork is correctly and unambiguously written thus:

    Covers on the LP include the Beatles’ “Michelle,” Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’,” and tracks from Serge Gainsbourg and Henri Salvador.

    Note my avoidance of the collision of apostrophe and closing single quotation mark – unremediated in the original, with its half-assed wordspace inside two fake apostrophes.

    At any rate, Yagoda is too dumb to notice that he irretrievably altered the source by quoting the original sentence, which forces the use of single quotation marks in American and Canadian style.

Let me go back to a previous point. Could Ben Yagoda explain – off the top of his head, without recourse to any reference material – when British usage does place periods and commas inside quotation marks?

We’re only five months into the year, yet this is – straight-up – ’011’s worst article about copy-editing. Quote me on that. And do nothing Ben Yagoda suggests.


(2011.05.31) The illustrious Gruber linked to this posting. We had E-mailed back and forth before that happened. I have no objection to being called “cranky” in this context. The issues here, in case they weren’t clear already, are:

  • Yagoda understands half the problem and offers half a solution for it. This simply is not an issue of putting periods and commas inside quotation marks. Quotation-mark rules are actually much more complex than that especially in U.K. usage, which, Yagoda is unaware, actually comprises several variant usages.

  • Yagoda and his publication cannot correctly render the examples that claim to prove his point.

    I can’t put my hands on an article I read this year that stated that Slate’s content-management system has remained essentially unchanged since 2003. Let’s accept I have recalled that fact correctly. Even given the stated and actual character encoding on Yagoda’s piece (UTF-8), I assume the Slate CMS can handle US-ASCII characters and nothing else. (A typical error of American computer programmers.)

    Given that constraint, in an article about punctuation somebody along the production line should have known enough to use character entities (e.g., “ or ”) to encode that punctuation. You never have to leave the US-ASCII repertoire, yet the result in the browser is correct. (Don’t do this as a matter of course; your copy becomes uneditable. But we aren’t talking about day-to-day uses here.)

    So yes, Slate’s “typesetting” is “appalling.” For this specific article, it need not have been, I estimate. But because it was, that fact became fair game – for me and for Gruber.

How’s this for a conclusion? The way I do it is the right way. I run the tightest copy in the business – as a point of pride.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2011.05.12 14:15. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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