Category Archives: punctuation

It’s Not a Foolish Question: A Day Belonging to Fools or a Day for Fools?

Yesterday was April Fool’s Day, and I felt like the biggest fool of them all. Well, I felt more unlucky than foolish: I lost Internet access, and then my laptop died.  It was a cosmic April Fool’s Day prank.

But yesterday reminded me of the variations (and ensuing debates!) I often see in the spelling of such days as April Fool’s. The usual suspects are April Fools’ Day (more than one fool) and April Fools Day (Fools as an adjective).

According to CP Style, the following spellings are correct:

April Fool’s Day

Mother’s Day

Father’s Day

The use of the singular possessive is convention more than anything else — using the plural possessive (Mothers’ Day) would be equally correct.

If you despise the singular possessive being used in this way, you’re not alone. Many people feel that these are days to celebrate all fools and moms and dads — plural, not singular.

According to Wikipedia, Anna Jarvis is the person to blame — at least for Mother’s Day. As the day’s founder, she trademarked “Mother’s Day” because she felt the day should be commemorated by every family celebrating its own unique mother. The use of the singular possessive for Father’s Day and April Fool’s Day is probably for the sake of consistency.

What about forgoing the apostrophe altogether: April Fools Day, Mothers Day, Fathers Day. Without the apostrophe, Fools and Mothers and Fathers become adjectives, modifying day. This would mean that the days don’t belong to the fools, mothers, and fathers, but rather that the days are for these groups. See the subtle difference? CMOS admits this difference “is sometimes fuzzy” and omits the apostrophe only in proper names without an apostrophe (usually corporate names like Publishers Weekly) or where it is clear that the meaning is not possessive.

So when in doubt, keep the apostrophe: girls’ washroom. And for you singular possessive naysayers, try to enjoy Mother’s Day anyway.


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Filed under apostrophe s, punctuation, spelling, style guides

The Oxford Comma

Ah, the Oxford comma: some love it, some hate it. I use it, but I have no problem dropping it when required by a style guide. However, there are some instances when the Oxford comma is indeed needed for clarity:

Who can argue with this?

Who can argue with this?

(From Gifts for Grammar Geeks.)

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Copy Editing Commandment #4: Thou Shalt Be Consistent

Maintaining consistency throughout a text is a basic editing skill. The list of items to keep consistent is long and varied:

  • capitalized words (Moon or moon, for example)
  • numbers (when to use figures, when to use words, how to treat dates, times, etc.)
  • abbreviations (when to use them, how to punctuate them, what articles to use with them)
  • distinctive type (italics, roman, quotation marks, etc.)
  • format (headings, lists, captions, tables, bibliographies, etc.)
  • punctuation (open or closed style, use of serial comma)
  • spelling (British vs. American vs. Canadian)
  • hyphen use for compound nouns (policy making or policy-making)
  • internal facts (what’s written on page 202 shouldn’t contradict what’s written on page 2)

Many writers don’t know how to treat different elements of content — or they’re too busy creating great content to care. The copy editor polishes text so that it’s ready for its close-up (i.e., publication!). The result can be transformative. It’s like the difference between you at home in your jammies and you ready for a hot date.

Hair, makeup, nails, and wardrobe for text: it’s what copy editors do.

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Filed under capitalization, comma use, editing and writing, punctuation, spelling

Rob Ford Sweats the Big Stuff; Copy Editors Sweat the Small Stuff

I wasn’t going to do it, but as a Torontonian it’s about time I blogged (however tangentially!) about our fearless — or should I say feckless — mayor. Yeah, that’s a pretty tame way of describing him. He has a lot to deal with, and I wish him luck.

In today’s National Post, The Blatch bemoaned the fact that the Star paid $5000 for the video of Ford — a video that has no context and brings nothing new to the ongoing civic saga — that is currently being shown everywhere. She wrote the following:

“The petulant shouted question to Mayor Ford Thursday (‘Why won’t you just go away?’) and the slavering mob of reporters turning up at his house and on duty outside the glass doors to his office — little of that is in the public interest.”

The integrity of today’s journalism is worthy of debate, but as a copy editor I’m bemoaning the confusion that a poorly edited paper can cause for its readership.

In the above sentence, Mayor Ford Thursday is strung together, giving the appearance that “Ford Thursday” is the mayor’s name. Newspapers place a premium on space and omit all unnecessary words and punctuation, and it could be argued that no one is going to misinterpret the mayor’s name — especially in a paragraph well into the article. Fair enough, but I always err on the side of making things as clear as possible for the reader, so I would add the preposition “on” before Thursday.

Also, when I first read the sentence I assumed that petulant was being used as an adverb and was misspelled: “petulantly shouted” would have been correct in this instance. That is, the slavering mob of reporters sounded like whiny children when they asked the mayor why he won’t go away. But I’m betting that the mob gathered around the mayor said these words emphatically — defiantly, even. It’s not that the question was said petulantly, it’s that the question per se was petulant. A comma between petulant and shouted would make this distinction. (Also recall that coordinate adjectives should be separated by commas.)

You can argue that I’m being pedantic, but don’t underestimate the confusion that can be created for readers when writing is not well structured.

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Filed under comma use, coordinate and noncoordinate adjectives, editing and writing, punctuation, the royal order of adjectives, Uncategorized

What Grammar Girl Taught Me Today or, How I Learned to Stop Furrowing and Love the Exclamation Bomb

Grammar Girl is a great resource for anyone who wants to improve their writing. She deftly answers pressing punctuation, grammar, and usage questions after doing plenty of supporting research. No persnickety pedant, she keeps her advice “quick and dirty,” giving her audience the tools they need to improve their writing.

One of my pet peeves when it comes to writing is the excessive use of exclamation marks — the exclamation bomb, if you will. If I  see another offensive sign imploring me to stay on the trail (Keep off the grass!!!) or forbidding me from consuming (No eating or drinking!!!), I’m going to remain on the local police blotter indefinitely.  But the use of numerous exclamation and question marks together to show enthusiasm (Don’t you just love fresh strawberries!!!!?!!!?)? Even more grating.

Today, Grammar Girl introduced me to something that could make this kind of writing bearable and, more importantly, save my nerves: the interrobang.

The interrobang is a new (well, new to me) punctuation mark (that brings the count to 15, in case you’re wondering) that is made from superimposing an exclamation mark on a question mark :

Now, as the name implies and as Grammar Girl suggests, the interrobang is used for asking questions in a surprised manner, but I’m willing to extend its use to one and all for the gush. I love the interrobang for the simple fact that it kills two birds with one stone, thus saving space, appearing gracious, and amusing readers all at the same time.

Now if I inadvertently stumble upon a tweet asking “Did she really wear that‽” I can deal. (I know, I know: the offending writer will probably be more likely to type “Did she really wear that‽” but hope springs eternal.

Thanks, Grammar Girl.

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The Apostrophe Catastrophe

The apostrophe is everywhere lately — literally. I’ve complained before about its incorrect usage, and I’m certainly not alone.

In yesterday’s Post, Robert Fulford writes about the misunderstood apostrophe, and he describes vigilante editors who take it upon themselves to make corrections to all the signs with the added apostrophes: Cd’s, Record’s, Dvd’s!

The apostrophe also came up on a recent discussion board for freelancers. An editor was called out for her use of the apostrophe in a sentence similar to the following: “I hope things go well at your parents’, and I hope you get good news at the solicitor’s.” But her critic was wrong. These apostrophes are correct because she’s referring to the parents’ house and to the solicitor’s office.

This blog needs a shot of colour, so here’s a spring photo with an accompanying sentence with as many correct apostrophes and plurals as I could manage.

Flowers 001Flowers 002

My neighbours’ property has a beautiful tree. The tree’s beautiful colour is my heart’s joy. My neighbours know I like the tree, and they have offered me one of the tree’s clippings. But I declined my neighbours’ offer. The tree, the tree’s leaves and flowers, and the leaves and flowers’ heartwarming colour should remain undisturbed by the likes of me.

(Note that in the last sentence above, leaves and flowers share a possession: colour. When this is the case, the apostrophe is used with only the second possessor.)

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Filed under apostrophe s, punctuation, signage

Make A(n En) Dash

I’m busy getting my resumé sent out. I laugh out loud sometimes when I’m tailoring my resumé to specific companies and job ads — the use of key words is so transparent.

But it’s time for a quick editing lesson. I was reading an article by former NDP leader Jim Broadbent yesterday, when I came across this:

Canada must promote greater tax fairness. First, we should act on the long-standing position of anti-child poverty groups that the maximum level of income-tested child benefits should be raised to cover the full cost of raising children.

When I got to anti-child poverty groups, I stopped and thought, Huh, there are poverty groups that are against children? Well, I guess that’s smart, seeing as how costly the little buggers are. I wonder how the group promotes…

Yeah, you get the idea. A good copy editor would have caught this mistake and avoided the confusion for the reader. What is missing? The en-dash, so called because it is the length of a capital N. It provides clarity where a hyphen doesn’t, such as in this case.

A two-word phrase, such as child poverty, requires the en-dash when a prefix or suffix is added to the phrase. The en-dash makes clear that the prefix or suffix is attached to the phrase, instead of to only one word: anti–child poverty.

Here are some other examples: high school–fundraising, anti–speed limit, pro–book publishing. With hyphens instead of en-dashes, we’d have school fundraising on drugs, limits that are against speed, and publishing that favours books. Heh. I guess that last one isn’t the best example.

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