A little rant for a Sunday forenoon

It’s a bit too late to call it “morning,” so “forenoon” it shall be.

When I see a post/article/tweet/what-have-you from someone purporting to be “professional,” and it contains one of my peeves (which may admittedly be dogmatic, pedantic, petty, and so on–but these are my peeves so that’s all okay), I twitch. Now that I have somewhere to vent about those occurrences, I can share my twitching with all of you.

Or not. If you’ve stopped reading, that’s ok.

Just today I found this: “We are comprised of college grad English Majors who are extremely proficient in writing, copy editing and proof reading.”

As they say on teh intarwebz: O RLY?

The zoo comprises the animals. The animals compose the zoo. “Comprise” denotes inclusion. “Compose” denotes–well, composition. (That’s why the words are so similar, after all . . . I will refrain from a lecture on etymology, however.)

So–first of all, “We are composed of” or “We comprise” would both be correct. (Note the lack of “of” in the second form. It’s unnecessary.) The reason we have two different words is they have two different meanings. Improper usage has been the death (slow, unkind, and agonizing death) of many a perfectly good differentiation over the life of this living language we speak. I fight to keep such words on life support because I think they’re important. The differences in meaning are important. If we hadn’t felt the need for different meanings to start with, we’d not have two different words. (And actually, “we are composed of” gives me a fit in this case for an entirely different reason. That’s another rant for another time, perhaps.)

::breathes deeply and evenly::

Second, what’s with that capital “M” on “Majors”? It doesn’t lend an air of importance; it only lends an air of . . . well, incorrect capitalization, to be honest.

And finally: “Proofreaders” is a closed compound word. “”Proof readers,” I suspect, are adept at reading liquor bottle labels. (And that could well be true of this group, I suppose. Not that that’s a bad thing. Sometimes we really do need 151, instead of 80.)

I hear grumblings out there among you (all two of you, I hear you, y’know) about my use of informal styles in a grammar-oriented blog. Get over it. It’s MY BLOG, and this is MY RANT (ooooh, I must be upset, I used ALL CAPS), and while I clearly am discussing grammar and usage, I’m doing so informally because I’m not writing an academic presentation. I’m blogging. That’s like talking to you on my front porch. It’s informal. Deal with it.

Or don’t. Your choice. I write this stuff anyway.

6 thoughts on “A little rant for a Sunday forenoon

  1. Love your rants, but check your grammar in the first sentence- commas and quotation marks. Just sayin’. Keep on ranting. Love it.


    1. The type of editing I do reruiqes compliance with Chicago Manual of Style 16. I spend a lot of time explaining to my (American) clients that punctuation goes inside quotation marks because this is America, and they will see it done differently in documents that originate in Britain.I would welcome the acceptance of logical punctuation in this country. I’m always uncomfortable with sentences such as: Did you enjoy the movie Salt? The name of the movie has no question mark, but I have to put it in the quotation marks with the title because that is the current convention. (BTW, in my case, the answer to the question is No. )Let the revolution continue!


      1. Good points regarding the difference between UK and US style, Khan. As for the sentence about the film, I would be tempted to recast it to remove the problem entirely: Did you enjoy “Salt” with Angelina Jolie?

        The other thing that used to really bother me is the reversal of quotation marks between the two countries. It took me a long time to get used to seeing single quotes used where we put double ones, and vice versa.

        Thanks for the comment on the blog!


  2. Chicago Manual of Style, 14th Edition, 5.86 regarding commas with other punctuation states the following:

    “When the context calls for a comma at the end of material enclosed in quotation marks, parentheses, or brackets, the comma should be placed inside the quotation marks but outside the parentheses or brackets” and then goes on to give several examples, such as the following. For clarity’s sake, I am NOT enclosing it within quotation marks, because then I would of necessity have to change the marks within the example to single quotes, which I fear would only muddy things further. And so–the example:

    See Brighton’s comments on “political expedience,” which may be found elsewhere in this volume.

    I’ll go out on a limb and say that probably 90% of the time, commas should be *inside* the closing quotation mark. It’s one of the most common errors I see in punctuation, and to be honest I’m not sure why. I was certainly never taught to put the comma on the outside in elementary or high school. It wasn’t until I was in college, writing research papers, that I learned about the particular circumstances in which the comma does NOT go inside the closing quotation mark.

    That’s covered in 5.87: “In close textual studies and on similar rare occasions when the inclusion of a comma inside the closing quotation mark may cause confusion, the comma may be placed outside the quotation mark. . . .”

    And again, their example, with the same alteration for clarity in this format:

    Following the phrase “silently disrobing”, an odd typographical error occurs.

    Placing the comma within the closing quote would surely cause a problem, since it (apparently) wasn’t there in the original, and the sentence is about “an odd typographical error” that presumably has nothing to do with a comma in any case.


    Edited to add: I checked the APA manual as well, just to see what they had to say about the matter. In the 6th Edition, under 4.08, “Double or Single Quotation Marks” with other punctuation, they say: “Place periods and commas within closing single or double quotation marks.” (I was pretty sure I haven’t been doing this wrong for 30+ years. I just wanted more backup.)


  3. I stand corrected. In my simple world, when quoting individual words as you did I was taught that the comma would not be inside the quotation marks. I did not intend to offend or make you spend our lovely afternoon researching proper usage. I thought it was perhaps a simple typo. I should have known better. Sorry. Won’t happen again.


  4. Offended? Hardly. If I have offended *you* I am sorry; your comment gave me the perfect opportunity to quote chapter and verse, as it were, to explain the proper use of commas with quotation marks.

    That’s partly what this blog is for, after all. Civil discourse about subjects that often cause folks to behave in a most uncivil manner. I am grateful for the opening you provided.

    Let it happen again. I love teaching. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s