AP vs. Chicago

The Onion posted a funny (well, funny to me) article yesterday about copy editing:

4 Copy Editors Killed In Ongoing AP Style, Chicago Manual Gang Violence

NEWS IN BRIEF • News Media • News • ISSUE 49•01 • Jan 7, 2013
  • NEW YORK—Law enforcement officials confirmed Friday that four more copy editors were killed this week amid ongoing violence between two rival gangs divided by their loyalties to the The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual Of Style. “At this time we have reason to believe the killings were gang-related and carried out by adherents of both the AP and Chicago styles, part of a vicious, bloody feud to establish control over the grammar and usage guidelines governing American English,” said FBI spokesman Paul Holstein, showing reporters graffiti tags in which the word “anti-social” had been corrected to read “antisocial.” “The deadly territory dispute between these two organizations, as well as the notorious MLA Handbookgang, has claimed the lives of more than 63 publishing professionals this year alone.” Officials also stated that an innocent 35-year-old passerby who found himself caught up in a long-winded dispute over use of the serial, or Oxford, comma had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

This is obvious hyperbole about a real note of contention among punctuation slingers.

There are notable differences between these two styles. For starters, Associated Press style is aimed at newspapers. It’s founded on the idea that people must write briefly so as much information as possible can fit onto pages. Thus, only numbers one through ten are written out (numerals are used for higher numbers), state names use the postal code, and the Oxford (or serial) comma is nowhere to be found.

Chicago is focused on other publications, such as books. Space limits are not a focus, so numbers through one hundred are spelled out, state names are spelled out, and my beloved Oxford comma retains its prideful position.

Are you interested in learning more about the differences between these two styles? Here’s a link to AP vs. Chicago, a blog about the subject.


Inside or outside: question marks, exclamation points, and quotation marks

How dare you say that this photo of Blossom “doesn’t make sense with the blog post”!

In American English, periods go inside quotation marks. However, this is not always the case with exclamation points and question marks. Whether these punctuation marks go inside or outside quotation marks depends on context.

If the quote is a question or exclamation, the punctuation mark goes inside the quotation marks.

Monica asked, “Have you seen my lighter fluid?”
Hank screamed, “Ow! My face is on fire!”

“I can’t believe you sold my baseball cards!” Sarah shouted to her brother.
“How else was I going to fund my start-up company?” her brother asked.

If the quote is not a question or exclamation, the punctuation mark goes outside of the quotation marks. You’ll often see this when someone is referencing something another person said.

Did she tell me to “go jump off a bridge”?
I can’t believe she told me to “enjoy eating some mashed peas”!

Did Paul say that “all you need is love”?
Only a rich guy would say that “all you need is love”!

Test your skills with a quiz. After the sentence is either exclamation point or question mark in parentheses. Choose whether the punctuation mark goes inside our outside of the quotation marks. The answers are at the bottom.

1. I’m so mad she said, “Honey, collate all these papers” (exclamation point)
2. “Could you hand me the large sword” Lily asked. (question mark)
3. Stephanie screamed, “Stop pinching me” (exclamation point)
4. Did you ask me to “stop and smell the roses” (question mark)
5. “How much money do you have in your wallet” Ted asked. (question mark)
6. It’s amazing the doctor said so calmly that he “had two hearts” (exclamation point)

1. outside 2. inside 3. inside 4. outside 5. inside 6. outside

Erin Servais is a freelance copy editor and copywriter. To learn how to hire her for your next project, go to www.dotanddashllc.com.

Say no to exclamation points

“Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”
—F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Five exclamation marks, the sure sign of an insane mind.”
—Terry Pratchett

ALERT: This post contains a rant.

I have a confession. Earlier today I wrote an angry email. Normally, I’m the friendly word nerd lady you have come to know and love, but this woman I wrote pushed me over the edge, and it was because . . . she used multiple exclamation points.

Stay with me here. We were discussing a touchy issue. And I kept my cool when I saw her set of double exclamation points (!!), but when I saw her use three (!!!) exclamation points at the end of a sentence, well, I just lost it. My reply was much more heated than it may have been had she not been so exclamation point happy.

Here’s why: exclamation points are a major pet peeve of mine. Nine times out of ten, even one exclamation point is not needed.

I ran into my ex-girlfriend today.
I bit into a rotten apple.
I won the first place prize.
I saw a double rainbow.

The kind and humble period works with all of the sentences above. You don’t need an exclamation point to express to another person how gross biting into a rotten apple is. Also, you don’t need an exclamation point to show your excitement at winning a prize. Your reader can interpret these feelings. Give them some credit.

And you never—ever, ever, ever—need to use more than one exclamation point. That’s like the waiters at those crappy chain restaurants who wear all of those buttons and pins on their suspenders (their “flair,” if you will). One button would be annoying enough. But pile on more and more and it becomes an assault on the eyeballs.

There are a few instances where using an exclamation point is okay. For example “Stop!” is more effective than “Stop.” if you need to express the severity of a situation. I might even say that a “Wow!” or a “Good luck!” is merited in rare occasions. But, when it comes down to it, if you have written a quality sentence, you most likely won’t need to use an exclamation point.

Moreover, each time you use an exclamation point in a piece of writing (be it an email or something else) it gets successively watered down. Think of the boy who cried wolf. Each time he alerted people about the wolf threat, they believed him less. Each time you use an exclamation point, your reader becomes less likely to believe that the situation you’re writing about is as exciting or dramatic or hilarious as you are trying to express that it is.

The moral of this story comes down to a simple equation:

! = use sparingly

Grumble Party

I’ve added a new page to Grammar Party, called Grumble Party. If you have a grammar or punctuation pet peeve that has been eating you up, feel free to use the comments section on that page to vent. Think of it as free grammar therapy.

Ouch! That comma splices!

Lesson: how to correctly join independent clauses

Take a look at this sentence.

The Martians want to look their best, they wear their green jumpsuits.

There is something wrong here. (And it’s not that the Martians think jumpsuits are high fashion.) Notice the comma between best and they? That’s called a comma splice. Sounds painful, doesn’t it?

The comma splice is a common error in sentence construction. When the parts of the sentence on each side of the comma can stand alone as separate sentences (These are called independent clauses.), you can’t use a comma to separate them.

Don’t fear. There are several remedies to the comma splice.

1. Separate into two sentences
Because independent clauses can function as separate sentences, you can use a period to separate them. Here’s how this correction looks:

The Martians want to look their best. They wear their green jumpsuits.

In some instances, it might also make sense to use a question mark to separate the independent clauses, such as in this comma splice example:

Did the Martians look silly in their green jumpsuits, yes they did.

Since the first independent clause is actually a question, you’ll want to place a question mark after it. Here is how this correction looks:

Did the Martians look silly in their green jumpsuits? Yes they did.

In other instances, you may want to use an exclamation point to separate the independent clauses, such as in this comma splice example:

The martians look ridiculous, green jumpsuits are ugly.

Because the first independent clause lends itself to more emphasis, you could use an exclamation point after it. This correction looks like this:

The martians look ridiculous! Green jumpsuits are ugly.

2. Separate with a comma and a coordinating conjunction
Coordinating conjunctions are the words and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. These words join parts of a sentence together. In sentences with more than one independent clause, they work with a comma to separate the clauses. Here’s how this correction looks:

The Martians want to look their best, so they wear their green jumpsuits.

3. Separate with a semicolon
If both independent clauses deal with the same general idea, then you can separate them with a semicolon. Here’s how this correction looks:

The Martians want to look their best; they wear their green jumpsuits.

However, if the independent clauses are not about the same general idea, then the semicolon isn’t the best option. For example, take a look at this comma splice example:

The Martians wear their green jumpsuits, they eat purple custard.

The first independent clause deals with wearing clothes. The second deals with eating food. Since these two ideas are not related, a semicolon shouldn’t connect them. To make it correct, you would want to use option 1:

The Martians wear their green jumpsuits. They eat purple custard.

or option 2:

The Martians wear their green jumpsuits, and they eat purple custard.

Voilà. That’s how you fix comma splices. (Just try to stay away from Martians. I heard they’re poor dressers.)

Making a list. Checking it twice (for colons, commas, and semicolons).

Lesson: Using colons, commas, and semicolons in lists

It’s December. ‘Tis the season for list making. Kids are making lists of presents they want to receive. Cooking aficionados are making lists of ingredients they need to bake their amazing cookies. Santa’s making lists of who will receive lumps of coal. My point is: there are lists. And if you want to learn how to format your lists correctly, then this is the post for you.

Using colons and commas to make a list
When you’re writing a sentence that contains a list, you may want to use a colon before you introduce the list’s items. In many cases, this will make the sentence more concise and make the items of the list more apparent.

Take a look at this sentence:

Roxy had three choices for lunch, which were pizza, grubs, and salamander.

You could shorten this sentence by placing a colon before your list (and using commas to separate the items). That sentence would look like this:

Roxy had three choices for lunch: pizza, grubs, and salamander.

With the help of a colon, you can also combine sentences. Here’s the original:

Ralph thought about two things. One thing he thought about was pizza. The other thing he thought about was algebra.

Here’s the new sentence:

Ralph thought about two things: pizza and algebra.

(Notice here that commas don’t separate these list items because there are only two.)

So short. So simple. Thank you, colon and comma.

Using colons and semicolons to make a list
If your list is complex, you may want to use semicolons as dividers to make each individual item easier to read. Or, as The Chicago Manual of Style says in section 6.58, “When items in a series themselves contain internal punctuation, separating the items with semicolons can aid clarity.”

Here’s an example of a complex list that uses both a colon and semicolons:

The items on Martina’s Christmas list are as follows: one red, fuzzy sweater; two super-violent, awesome video games; one old, beaten-up copy of Fahrenheit 451; and six adorable, little hamsters.

The items on Martina’s list are complex because, as you’ll notice, the items contain a lot of detail and punctuation (in this case, commas) within the singular items. If we only used commas to separate the items, instead of semicolons, it would be more difficult to see where one item ends and the next one begins.

Summing up
If your list is simple, use a colon to introduce the list and commas to separate the items.

Example: Last night Regina saw: a mouse, a wizard, and a tomato.

If your list is complex, use a colon to introduce the list and semicolons to separate the items.

Example: Last night Regina saw: an old, ugly mouse; a scary-looking, grumpy wizard; and a moldy, stinky tomato.

There you go. I hope this post helps make your holiday list making more pleasurable.