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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

My father is a very wise man.

He has pointed out a quirk of Canadian punctuation: when quoting a short snippet of text like “wanna-be punk rockers”, the comma goes OUTSIDE the quotation marks unless there is a comma in the original text. This is distinct from American style, which would be like this: “wanna-be punk rockers,” or “country-destroying treasonous fools,” or “OH MY GAWD Y’ALL, WHERE DO I SIGN UP FOR THE CROSS-COUNTRY TOUR?” The Americans don’t like to see punctuation marks hanging out all by themselves. They like to bring commas into the protective embrace of the quotation marks.

I’ve lived in Canada most of my life and use mostly Canadian spelling and punctuation, other examples being “humour” and “colour”. I’ve been known to use commas in the American style when making lists, though. Americans would write:

The life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

Whereas Canadians would write:

The life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.

See the difference? No, you probably don’t. I used to have an editor who would yell at writers who put commas in front of the word “and”. It’s technically wrong, I suppose, but these are differences in style that don’t change the meaning.

Good catch. I’m impressed.

1 comments:

J.C. Snow said...

With all this interest in punctuation, you might enjoy reading "Eats, Shoots and Leaves", a best-seller by Lynn Truss. (Gotham Books, 2003) She points out some fascinating facts abouts commas and semicolons, and yes, the peculiarities of American and British (Canadian) punctuation.

It is great to know there is life above the tree-line!

Blessings,

Chris Snow
St. John's