Might Be Me

this guy, that is; but it’s not, for two reasons: I have an alibi, and I wouldn’t be seen dead in Bristol.

This video shows a self-confessed ‘grammar vigilante’ who has been secretly correcting bad punctuation on signs and shop fronts in Bristol for the last 13 years.
By day the anonymous crusader is a highly-qualified professional with his secret known only to a handful of close family and friends.
But at night he becomes a shadowy figure who patrols the streets of Bristol, armed with his homemade ‘apostrophiser’ and purpose-built trestle.

Yes, I am a grammar Nazi like this guy. Worse than that, I am a grammar Nazi in several languages, especially in Latin, but more commonly in English.

Here’s an example of a typical Kim-the-grammar-Nazi rant:

Good grief, I hate accountant-speak (e.g. “…to 1.8% from 2.0%”).
In English (in which this report was written), we read from left to right, not to right from left; we go from point A to point B, not to B from A; we go from top to bottom, not to bottom from top; we run the gamut of emotions from A to Z, not to Z from A, and graphs (line and bar) also move from left to right along the x axis, not to right from left. (The basis for this construct is actually from the Latin idiom — “ab… ad…”, e.g. “ab terra ad astra”.)

And yes, if you look at the last sentence above, I put periods and commas outside quotation marks (where it’s not part of conversation), simply because that’s where they belong, and where all other punctuation can be found. Unless the comma or period is actually part of the quote, it should follow the quotation marks.

Observe this sentence:
The men were called “bullies,” “brutes,” “yobs,” and all other kinds of names.
Note how the quotation marks are awkwardly placed next to each other, and how the commas have no relevance to the words in quotes, which makes comprehension just a little more difficult and creates what I call a “cognitive speed-bump”. (See what I just did? The period ends the whole sentence and not the phrase, which is just part of the sentence.)
Now the sentence as it should be written:
The men were called “bullies”, “brutes”, “yobs” and all other kinds of names.
The commas are now in their proper role as separators, and not rootless nonentities drifting inside quotes.

Most American English grammar texts will differ from me and mark what I do as incorrect. I hate to say it, but I’m right and they’re wrong. Other than commas and periods, all other punctuation marks are written outside the quotes because they don’t belong inside; why should periods and commas be treated any differently? And that’s just my position on commas and periods; don’t even get me started on misspelled apostrophes. (“You mean apostrophe’s, Kim?”)

Grrrrr. Another reason I’m not the guy from Bristol is that there are no .45-caliber bullet-holes in those offensive signs. “Apostrophiser”? Bah.

 

13 comments

  1. That guy must read “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves” under his bedspread at night. 😉

    I’ve struggled with the sense of quote and comma rules for years. You’ve converted me. I tend to be 95% prescriptivist and 5% descriptivist. Not sure where this falls, but I’m now with you.

    And bad apostrophes drive me nuts, too.

    There was a sign at the counter at City Hall that said something like “Please ring bell to attain assistance.” (Can’t remember if they had a period on the sentence or not, but it belongs there, so I’m showing it.) I took the print out of its sleeve, scratched out “attain” and wrote “obtain”. It took them months to notice or to have the shame to replace that sign.

  2. I’ve noticed somewhat recently a habit I’ve fallen into, apparently for some time now.
    I’ve always read a lot; “voracious” I think is the term some use. Most anything will grab my interest, be it fiction, non-fiction, history, biographies, etc.
    I made a living from around 1980 to 1985 proofreading and editing for various temp agencies.
    I became a terrible grammar Nazi, mostly because I absolutely loathed being pulled out of the ‘hole’, or losing my focus due to the proliferation of errors that were appearing in print, and later and even worse in e-books.
    What I seem to have subconsciously done is to self-edit what I read. I seem to automatically correct the grammar errors, misspellings, wrong or missing words, and all the rest of the ever-growing perversion of the language. I know what they mean and keep on going.
    It certainly makes my reading more enjoyable.
    So maybe instead of a grammar Nazi I’ve become a grammar Buddhist, or something.

    Except…
    ‘Alright’ is NOT acceptable! It’s just not all right.
    And ‘albeit’ is used way too often.

    So…not totally reformed, I guess.

  3. I’ve given up on everything except it’s and its.

    ITS is possessive. ITS ITS ITS

    I’ve seen apostrophes used for plural on BILLBOARDS. Give me eye bleach.

  4. And yes, if you look at the last sentence above, I put periods and commas outside quotation marks…

    This is something that has driven me up a wall in the past, specifically when a co-worker began reshuffling my punctuation.

    Thus if I wrote something like:
    Bob described his marriage as “a long cold swim to the genitals of human dignity”.

    It would become:
    Bob described his marriage as “a long cold swim to the genitals of human dignity.”

    I explained that the latter originated with some early American typesetters being lazy, and that the reason for it was therefore wrong.

  5. Amen and Hallelujah!!
    I am NOT alone in this wilderness!!
    Bad grammar (and improper punctuation, in particular) have driven me nucking futs since “grammar” school!
    Glad to see that I am not an island.
    In my defense: I may not be perfect 100% of the time, but at least I recognize the necessity! Most folks today seem to think that as long as they can slap a few words down and be generally understood…”close enough”.
    NOT!!

  6. Add my total agreement to the tally as well. I’m in IT, and I often put commands or code snippets inside double-quotes. If I follow the rules of English grammar within those snippets, I could create a chunk of code or a command that at best simply throws a syntax error, or at worst causes a program crash or damages data.

  7. Balm to my brain! I am a Lawyer (on weekdays).
    I hired a secretary last month, aged about 55 years, who worked for an Accountant.
    Within one week she was telling me that my letters are old-fashioned, and do not conform with (some, as yet unseen ) style-manual. She tells me that no-one bothers with punctuation in this modern age. Why do I use capital letters for some words – and what is a proper noun? And all of my letters should be uniform.
    I told her that Accountants often do not understand people, and if she does not reflect upon what a Lawyer’s task involves, and how I can carry it out, then she is heading for the door.
    I do think language needs to be flexible, and amenable to change. And we must not neglect someone whose communication is poor, albeit he (or she) might have to carry the cost of poor communicating skills.
    As an analogy, would you undo the nuts and bolts on a Bugatti with a wobbly shifter-spanner? ( The spanner that we sometimes call a “nut-fkr”).
    If we cannot craft clear and precise language when it is required, civilisation and society suffer. More power to we curmudgeons!

  8. I’m about your age and a product of American schools, a small parochial school k-6, public schools after that. My English teachers always apologized when they were required to cover old fashioned topics like punctuation or sentence structure. They always preferred things like improvised theater or the poetry of ee cummings. I think we spent one week diagramming sentences one year and I’m still confused by proper punctuation. I’m still a bit vague on the correct usage of the word “whom”, a word which my teachers always insisted was obsolete.

    I consider myself largely self educated, although I eventually came within a few credits of a college degree. Looking back, I think I had one good math teacher in seventh grade and a good chemistry teacher in High School. The rest were mediocre at best, even a couple of Social Studies teachers who had some influence on me, and at least temporarily warped my understanding with a lot of Socialist nonsense, which I eventually rejected.

    I think the schools have gotten worse since I was young. My daughter has done well, but I think it is in spite of the schools rather than because of them. She got used to me frequently criticizing her textbooks or the nonsense her teachers were pushing.

  9. The singular “they” is an abomination in the eyes of God and Man. “He” is the correct third-person, singular pronoun to use when an individual’s sex (not “gender”!) is unknown.

    This comment is not directed at anyone on this comment thread (though “or she” is redundant…*cough*), just had to get that off my chest.

  10. “I put periods and commas outside quotation marks (where it’s not part of conversation)”

    I wanna have your babies.

    Oh, wait. Never mind.

    There’s a “”style”” book written by some arrogant SOB named E. B. White, wherein he pontificates that all punctuation belongs inside the quotes. As best I remember, he said “it might not seem to make sense, but that’s the way it is”. Screw you, buddy. If it doesn’t make sense, MAKE SENSE OF IT!

    Also….
    There are two kinds of people in this world: those who use the Oxford Comma, and those who are wrong.

  11. Other than commas and periods, all other punctuation marks are written outside the quotes because they don’t belong inside; why should periods and commas be treated any differently?

    Okay, you’ve convinced me about the punctuation around quotation marks. It’s bothered me for *cough* years, but I continued to do it the way I was taught. From now on, I’m going to do it your way, although when I do, I’m sure I can hear my High School Comp teacher weeping quietly.

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