Ease up on the quotation marks
Deep cleansing breath? Time to switch to decaf? Need to take your hands off the keyboard?
The other day Ben Yagoda suggested on Slate.com that it’s time in American English to put the quotation marks inside the punctuation. He has two reasons, the first having to do with computer coding in text, the second, and greater, that putting the quotations marks inside the periods and commas is more logical. (For our purposes, we’ll call it an aesthetic preference, given that small part that logic ever has to do with language.)
Poynter.org decided to put this up for discussion and polled people’s preferences. “How outraged are you?” suggests the responses for which Poynter was trolling, and it got them. On Twitter: “141 ppl responded to our punctuation poll; 40% are crazed by commas/periods outside quotation marks http://ow.ly/4UACyCRAZED! 33 left notes”
So, whaddya think? That forty percent have never read a British book? They wig out at the spelling colour? They break out in hives if they switch from a newspaper that uses AP style and pick up a book that uses Chicago? (He just wrote out forty instead of using the numeral! What is he on?) If their wits are at such a precarious equipoise, they might be better off avoiding text altogether.
Where you put the quotation marks is a purely mechanical and arbitrary matter. While switching between American and British practice within a single text might be mildly distracting, most readers of experience and sound mind move back and forth between the two without much noticing the difference.
But the vehemence, the vehemence. From Poynter’s Facebook page: “WHAT????? How can something so wrong, now be OK? I thought grammar was the last bastion of hard and fast rules that cannot be broken, as well they should be. Don't we stand for anything anymore?” and this: “Nooooo. Make it stop.” And this: “We should abandon proper punctuation because some students can't figure it out?”
You begin to wonder whether these people have started to stockpile canned goods in the basement against the impending Breakdown of Civilization.
My recommendation to them: Pour yourself a generous tot of the good bourbon (if you’re teetotal, brew a pot of tea, quite restorative) and sit down in a comfortable chair with a good light to read a book. Robert Lane Greene’s You Are What You Speak would be both salutary and entertaining.