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Archive for the ‘punctuation’ Category

Ten Common Typographic Mistakes

with 4 comments

Really nice post up at Receding Hairline regarding the finer points of symbols that everyone tries to use correctly but almost never succeeds. For instance,

A hyphen – the kind of short dash you see above – should really only be used when linking words such as ready-made. It shouldn’t even be used mathematically to represent a minus, as there’s a dedicated character for that, too. Most other uses mandate an en dash – as here, for example – or when planning meetings from 1–2. Changing fashions mean the the long dash—this one, called an em dash—is rarely seen, but where it is, it’s usual to render it without the spaces on either side or with special hairline spaces instead.

There are other entries on, among other things, the proper use of ellipses (contrary to common belief, the ellipsis is so much more than just three periods…); the differences between primes, opening and closing apostrophes and quotes, and straight apostrophes and quotes; and when to use parentheses, brackets, angle brackets, and guillemets. All of these are accompanied by helpful keyboard shortcuts and, when that fails, character palette tips. Time to study up on some keyboard combinations!

(Lifehacker via 43folders)

Written by benferguson

2008 Apr 18 at 12:07

On the Origin of Species Punctuation

with 2 comments

Neatorama has a dandy of a post today on the roots of some of the punctuation marks that are in use by literally everyone today (well, not necessarily the Prince symbol, but one never knows how many Prince fans are still out there). I find the ampersand story especially interesting. This is a perfect example of how language can change to accommodate ease of use.

Check it out.

Written by benferguson

2007 Jul 9 at 07:41

Posted in punctuation

txt spk, language, education

with 8 comments

ive wanted to write a post in txt spk for quite sum time now. not totally txt spk so u cant read it at all, but just 1 where i can shorten things n see how it looks. u c, ive been in correspondance lately with a woman frm sweden who lives in london and who ive been wanting to help get on a translation course.

ive noticed a few things about her which id like to share here, maybe to get a better understanding of her (once ive written it all down).

first of all, in all her emails and msn etc she only uses txt spk. i.e. even if its a written document its just txt speak, not ‘real’ English. its not over the top teenage txt spk, but for instance all the time she uses u to say ‘you’ n stuff like that, so u can still read it but its certainly linguistically wrong! i havent challenged her about it as its quite a touchy subject i think. i mean wot am i gonna say? eh babe can u actually use proper language?

the spk she uses is not totally txt spk, but a weird form of standard english with loads of txt abbreviations thrown in. here are sum of the characteristicsn of her language:

  • shortening of words via contraction, often: omission of vowels (example: ‘some’ – ‘sum’; ‘you’ – ‘u’; ‘would’ – ‘wud’)
  • poor vocabulary (sum stats of the average use of vocabulary wud b useful here, i.e. how many different words an average spker of English uses)
  • poor punctuation (very little understanding of puncutation rules; often, ommision of punctuation mark even tho theyre required)
  • absence or incorrect use of apostrophe’s (e.g. it’s will always be written as its, while other times the apostrophe is placed incorrectly)
  • general spelling mistakes (alot of spelling mistakes, indicating poor grasp of english)
  • absense of structure (longer emails lack structure an its difficult to comprehend what she means sumtimes)
  • use of lowercase ‘i’ – she always uses lowercase ‘i’, never uppercase

the funny thing is that she does strike me as quite intelligent, only her language is so rotten and messy that i really dont know if its improvable or not, i.e. within an educational context. theres been stuff on the news where teachers at secondary school get assignments written in half txt speak and thats what it must look like.

id luv to be able to help her somehow but dont think i can. ive always taken it for granted that ppl know how to write relatively well, but maybe thats because ive only ever corresponded with those that can. maybe its me being snobbish, but it does somewhat illustrate the importance of a gud education imho.

the reason why i wanted to write this post in txt spk (yes, all the errors are intentionel :P ) is to demonstrate that language, to me, is very adaptable to whatever u want it to do. its not a reflection of any exterior reality. its a tool that u can use in all sorts of contexts, and the way u use it conveys a lot of information about u. so, use it wisely. use txt speak if u want n it makes ur life easier, but remember to switch back to proper English if u want to make urself understood.

Written by lenina

2007 May 15 at 11:46


with 3 comments

This is for all you people who, in the course of your lifetime, have had or will have the opportunity to verbally spell out a website address to someone – you know, with all the https and the slashes and whatnot.

For the record, here’s what’s up, yo.

A backslash points from NW to SE. It leans “back” toward what you just typed, assuming the bottom of the text is your frame of reference. It’s also by far the less common of the two types of slashes (in plain old English, anyway; computer languages may differ in this regard.)

A slash is its perpendicular, pointing from NE to SW. It points in a forward direction from the text you’re writing, again assuming you’re going from the bottom here. It’s more common than a backslash in written language, and it’s NOT called a forward slash; slash and slash alone does the trick. It’s the one used in either/or situations, in fractions, in between lines of prose or song, and, most importantly for the purposes of this gripe, in internet addresses.

To provide perhaps a lamer, less straightforward way to remember the two, remember the phrase slashdot (the name of the popular “news for nerds” site, and the icon of which I’ve made the title of this post). Pretend the bottom of the appropriate slash is the center of a clock, the slash itself being the minute hand and the imaginary line between the slash and the dot being the hour hand. In the case of both the slash and the backslash, the time reads close to 3 o’clock. However, with the backslash, it’s about 5 minutes before 3 (\.), having gone “back” in time, while with a slash, it’s roughly 3:05 (/.), or relatively “forward” in time with respect to 3 o’clock on the dot.

Hmm, no one’s going to remember that one. You could just remember that /.=slashdot and not backslashdot. Anyone else have a useful mnemonic?

Written by benferguson

2006 Oct 9 at 19:59

Posted in punctuation

Apostrophe Obsessions

with 2 comments

I seem to have an obsession with apostrophes.  It seems that so many people know that apostrophes exist, but cannot quite remember which way they work, so leave them out altogether, or put them in whenever they think they might belong.

So glad you started with posessions, nosugerfneb – I’ve been composing this post over about three extremely hectic weeks, so it’s as well that you got started.  I won’t change this, however, because it looks at the whole issue in a different light…..

The one that has me laughing, (not hurling! but maybe laughing hysterically (?)) is the local fruit shop advertising apple’s for $6.95 a kilo.  I thought this was just me, but see below, it seems to be an age old problem. 

Anyway, I put together my thoughts and a few researched clarifications.  

 Apostrophes are used for three purposes

To show possession

e.g. the boy’s football = the football of the boy 

This is a useful exercise to use to see if possession is involved – see if you can turn the words into a phrase, with the word “of” in it. (until I tried it with the apples! … Apple’s $6.50 a kilo – and the phrase would be “$6.50 a kilo of the apples”)  My suggestion is that if the thing after the s belongs to thing before the s, then use a possessive apostrophe   

Exceptions occur if the thing that is owned is an object, a piece of furniture or a building

e.g.  the church steeple and not the church’s steeple

the chair leg and not the chair’s leg

the apple core and not the apple’s core 

And on the subject of apples, my example was a plural, so if the apples owned something, the apostrophe needed to go after the s.

The colour of the apples would be “the apples’ colour”.

Other examples

The horses’ manes

The boys’ footballs 

If the plural had been a word that does not end in s, then we would put the apostrophe before the s

e.g. the children’s bus 

and there are some more excellent examples at the post I mentioned earlier  

If the word ends in s but is not a plural, generally you can add ‘s Mr. Jones’s house

The boss’s office   

If in doubt about this one, write what you and your reader would say, and keep it consistent. 

To indicate that letters have been omitted

e.g. can’t  = cannot

and the apostrophe shows that letters between the n and the t have been omitted – This is a contraction.  Or a word can be abbreviated with an apostrophe

e.g. gov’t for government  

In plurals of lower case letters 

e.g. a’s and b’s 

Apostrophes Matter I just had to share these from Wikipedia (which incidentally has a comprehensive article on apostrophes) 

To illustrate that possessive apostrophes matter, and that their usage affects the meaning of written English, consider these four phrases (listed in Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct), each of which has a meaning distinct from the others: my sister’s friend’s investments my sisters’ friends’ investments my sisters’ friend’s investments my sister’s friends’ investments Kingsley Amis, on being challenged to produce a sentence whose meaning depended on a possessive apostrophe, came up with: “Those things over there are my husbands.”

Greengrocers’ Apostrophes I thought it was just me.  Wikipedia tells me, however, that this is an identified phenomenon … 

Apostrophes used incorrectly to form plurals are known as greengrocers’ apostrophes (or grocers’ apostrophes, or sometimes humorously greengrocers apostrophe’s).  Read more at the article there.

I also acknowledge the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University for their excellent pages that simplify the ins and outs of apostrophes so well.  They offer interactive apostrophe exercise one and apostrophe exercise two.  Enjoy your play time there! 

Written by Bronwyn

2006 Oct 2 at 06:00

Posted in grammar, punctuation

My Girlfriend’s Parents’ Dogs

with 7 comments

Here’s a tricky one: In the possessive form, when do you put the apostrophe before the “s,” when do you put it after the “s,” and when do you not put it anywhere? (Okay, the third one is a trick question. You always need an apostrophe to show the possessive form.)

The apostrophe comes before the “s” if the possessor to which you are referring is singular. Thus, “my girlfriend’s parents’ dogs” refers to the two or more dogs belonging to the two or more parents of my one girlfriend. Had I said “my girlfriends’ parent’s dogs,” I would of course be referring to the two or more dogs belonging to the singular parent of my multiple girlfriends, who must in this case be sisters (sweet(!), but likely very tricky to pull off) and the daughters of a single parent.

The precise numerical status of the possession of which the possessor is in possession does not matter in the least. Put as if I were writing like a normal person speaking English more simply, the fact that the “dogs” in this case are more than one doesn’t matter. If I were referring only to one dog, “girlfriend’s” and “parents'” and their associated apostrophe positioning would stay exactly the same. To give a few more examples,

Holly’s computer refers to the one computer of Holly
Holly’s computers refers to the two or more computers of Holly
The apostrophe here stays exactly the same because Holly is still just one person.

my cat’s toy refers to the one toy belonging to my one cat
my cat’s toys refers to the two or more toys belonging to my one cat
my cats’ toy refers to the one toy that my two or more cats share
my cats’ toys refers to the two or more toys that my two or more cats share
Notice here that number of toys belonging to my cat(s) doesn’t affect where the apostrophe is placed; only the number of cats I have, whether it’s one or more than one, affects the position of the apostrophe.

If I see one more ad for “Pats Pizza” or “Shoe’s On Sale!” or “Come See Our Price’s!” I think I’m gonna hurl.

Blogged with Flock

Written by benferguson

2006 Sep 11 at 15:05

Posted in punctuation

Hello, world!

with 5 comments

With the widespread use of email in the last decade, I’ve observed that a popular and acceptable salutation is written in this form:

Hi Bob,

That is, the word “Hi” followed immediately by the name of the addressee and a comma.

Because email can be a very casual means of communication, most people greet one another with a “Hi” instead of the more formal letter opening such as:

Dear Bob,

However, the correct form for addressing someone by name is to precede the name with a comma, as in:

Hi, Bob!

In both personal and business email, however, it’s become acceptable to adopt the hi-name-comma convention.

In this situation, the comma is still present. I lament the increasing disappearance of the comma in our everyday writing, particularly when addressing another person. Already I notice people skipping the use of the comma in sentences such as:

Where are you going Jane?


Okay Chris I’ll see you later.

The above sentences look like they belong in a second grade English test on the use of commas. We’ve got to draw the line somewhere — and the line resembles a period with a tail that is written before and/or after the name of the person you’re addressing.

Where are you going, Jane?


Okay, Chris, I’ll see you later.

Otherwise it’s a slippery slope to:

You should eat Nancy before you leave the house in the morning.

Written by wellaontheweb

2006 Sep 4 at 04:05

Posted in punctuation