Great, just great. I’m barely getting over the realization that I totally missed National Coffee Day, and now I find out that there was a National Punctuation Day on September 24th. How can I be so out of touch??
It seems that this was the seventh annual National Punctuation Day, so I can’t just blame it on having had a busy week. I guess it’s been a hectic decade for me… What else could explain it?
I’ve posted before about how much grammar and word usage matter to me, and just recently a Washington Post column by Eugene Weingarten, lamenting “The Death of the English Language” introduced me to another kindred spirit. I’m still mourning the loss of retired NBC newsman Edwin Newman, who passed away in August.
Newman was a champion of the proper use of English dating way back to my coming of age, and always did so with humor and aplomb. He wrote whole books about it, books which I still possess (from the early ‘70s) titled “Strictly Speaking: Will America Be the Death of English?” and “A Civil Tongue”.
Anyway, it seems that a guy named Jeff Rubin (no relation), a veteran print journalist who reads The San Francisco Chronicle every morning with a red Sharpie in hand, founded National Punctuation Day.
People ask him all the time, "Who cares?" because from the plethora of mispunctuated signs out there, it sometimes seems as if nobody does. But Rubin gets e-mails, "hundreds and hundreds of e-mails," he says, "from people who do care: teachers, attorneys, journalists, parents." Now he’ll have to add, “Bloggers like the nutcase Leah Rubin, who originally wanted to name her blog ‘The Word Nerd’”.
And, according to an interview Jeff Rubin gave NPR…
Defending punctuation isn't glamorous work, but Rubin says he "soldiers on." Here are his greatest punctuation pet peeves:
1. People who misuse the apostrophe, Part 1: The rule about apostrophes is so simple: If it's plural there's no apostrophe. How hard is that? Other than the period, which tells people to STOP, this is the easiest punctuation mark. Will the "Johnson's" and "Smith's" of the world explain to me why this rule is so difficult to understand?
2. People who misuse the apostrophe, Part 2: What's the deal with "it's" and "its"? "It's" is a contraction, meaning "it is." "Its" is possessive. If people read their sentences by substituting "it is" for "it's" — "it is condition was serious" — it wouldn't make sense. That means "it's" is wrong.
3. People who make up their own punctuation style: At a business meeting the other day a guy who specializes in risk assessments said he likes to put commas and periods outside closing quotation marks. I told him that's not the recognized style of any of the major stylebooks in the United States. He told me he felt it was a "choice," not an absolute rule. That's like saying the Ten Commandments are the Ten Suggestions.
4. People who put commas where they don't belong: There are several correct ways to use a comma; an incorrect way is to add one just because it seems like the appropriate time. I know a writer who submits an occasional article for her company's newsletter. Her article always includes a misplaced comma. When I ask why the comma is where it is, I get this response: "Well, I hadn't used a comma in a while so I thought I should put one in." Where's the Maalox?
5. Their, there, and they're; your and you're: When did they stop teaching homophones in school?
Wait—if he says that now, how many people out there would object to the use of the word ‘homophones’? I’m just asking!
If you loved the very popular “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”, you should check out “Lapsing Into a Comma,” “Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies,” and “Mortal Syntax.” They will keep you laughing while you lament the destruction of our mother tongue.
Anyway, I’m totally with him on all five of the pet peeves, and just today, en route to my niece’s wedding, I saw a new misuse to share with you. We encountered a pack of a dozen or so motorcyclists, all wearing jackets emblazoned across the back with “Sin City Deciples.” Shouldn’t some ONE of them have encountered the word “disciple” at some point in life??? I’m just saying…