Punctuation Frustration

I know the rules about using quotation marks. Capital Community College’s grammar website pulls no punches:
In the United States, periods and commas go inside quotation marks regardless of logic.
They go on to explain:
There are peculiar typographical reasons why the period and comma go inside the quotation mark in the United States. The following explanation comes from the "Frequently Asked Questions" file of alt.english.usage: "In the days when printing used raised bits of metal, "." and "," were the most delicate, and were in danger of damage (the face of the piece of type might break off from the body, or be bent or dented from above) if they had a '"' on one side and a blank space on the other. Hence the convention arose of always using '."' and ',"' rather than '".' and '",', regardless of logic." This seems to be an argument to return to something more logical, but there is little impetus to do so within the United States.
It’s time to reform and incorporate logic. It’s time to recognize that quotation marks have two functions: one for dialogue and another for other uses. I’m ready to defect to the Brits for guidance in this matter.  In British usage, only those punctuation marks included in the quoted material are placed within quotation marks in direct quotations. Otherwise they place punctuation outside the closing quotation marks. Likewise with quotation marks used to set off non-traditional meanings, titles and so forth.

Notice the difference in this sentence:

Mr. Watson made us all memorize Edgar Alan Poe’s poem, “The Raven.” (American)
Mr. Watson made us all memorize Edgar Alan Poe’s poem, “The Raven”. (British)
Or this one:
I especially appreciated Penfield's article, “The Makings of a Memoir.” (American)
I especially appreciated Penfield's article, “The Makings of a Memoir”. (British)
The British form makes sense. The poem name and article title are independent parts of the sentences. If either were put in parentheses, the period would come after the closing parenthesis, I.e. ... Edgar Alan Poe’s poem (The Raven).

Fortunately American grammar is more reasonable where question and exclamation marks are used. Their placement inside or outside the closing quotation mark is determined by whether they apply to the whole sentence or the part within the quotes. For example,

Did Larry ask “Is Mattie going to be there”?
Larry asked, “Is Mattie is going to be there?”
I have already begun using British guidelines in this respect, and shall continue to do so (unless someone pays me serious money to conform to their choice of style guide). But if I am to make any inroads, I need lots of help. Otherwise, I look as ignorant as my children used to think I was, and my efforts will make only the tiniest of ripples. I invite you to join me in publicly proclaiming independence from archaic punctuation logic. Rules eventually change to reflect common usage, so let’s be common!

Write now: examine a small stack of old manuscripts and determine places where you might edit closing quotes according to British usage. Make a decision about sticking to the traditional form versus helping shift a rule.




Pat's Place said...

Hmmm! Thanks for the explanation of that rule. I have always followed it religiously, but never knew the origin of the rule--or did not remember it if I ever did know. Humph! I am not sure I can teach this old dog new tricks after years and years of academic writing experience!

Sharon Lippincott said...

You don't have to learn a new rule. You'll always be safe by sticking with Quotations American Style. My hunch is that as the youngest generation matures, they may know know punctuation exists. I haven't noticed much on cell phones. :-[

Choc. D said...

Keeping tradition alive; love it. And thanks for explaining the rule that both Pat I seem to follow blindly.