If any of you are big Strunk & White fans, you’ve probably winced when reading any number of my posts due to the grammatically incorrect and inconsistent placement of trailing punctuation and closing quotes. You probably thought I didn’t know what I was doing, but actually I’ve fretted about this because I don’t feel the proper technique is the correct one.
According to Elements of Style and every English teacher I ever had growing up (including my mother), punctuation always went inside the quotes. For example, it is correct to write that Mary said, “I have a little lamb.” In that case, I would write it that way as the quote is a sentence, so a trailing pause (period or comma) seems correct as Mary likely did pause following that statement. The punctuation is part of the quote, not part of the containing sentence.
However, I’ve always struggled with sentences like this one.
He actually used the word “persnickety”. Who talks like that?
In this case, the punctuation (the period) is not really part of the quote. So it’s never seemed correct to place it inside the quotation marks. And in recent years I’ve pretty much just taken to doing what I liked rather than what was really correct. No one complains on my blog. (Does anyone even notice? Besides Mom?) Although a woman at work who edits articles I write for them always points out my misplaced commas and periods. (She also notices when I mistakenly use a hyphen where an en-dash or an em-dash is required—the horror (and yes, that’s an em-dash). So she’s genetically incapable of overlooking my punctuation placement eccentricities.)
Still, I thought it was just me, but today I ran across an article indicating that this is a punctuation trend growing slowing among English speaking geeks. Who knew? I thought I was walking alone out on the grammatical razor’s edge, and it turns out I’m just a lemming in a trend crowd. The author goes so far as to speculate that one day the Elements of Style may have to accept this outside-the-line punctuation rabble-rousing as acceptable form. Should that day come, I know two people I’ll be writing to promptly, and they should expect that I will use the term “vindicated”.