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Style Corner: The Uncomfortable World of Speech Punctuation

I’ll admit straight up: speech and quote punctuation is one of my blind spots. It always has been, from the moment I started retraining as a proofreader and copy editor.

It is one of those things where there seem to be so many equally valid variations, and small ones that either matter or don’t. How are we to know which, from a logical point of view?

This blog attempts to bring some sense to the disorder.

To start with, what are the areas of variation?

Style Corner: The Oxford and Other Commas

In a December 2017 edition of Style Corner I denounced the so-called comma splice – the practice of using a comma to separate two full sentences – with the simple advice “don’t do it” (at least in business writing).

Then someone kindly reminded me that in July 2016 I’d written another piece which suggested I was actually quite relaxed about the comma splice.

It was true. I had, and (at the time) was. I’ve now changed my mind, at least so far as business writing is concerned. So in case you’re wondering, I have amended that earlier blog and removed the offending, excessively liberal sentiment.

Then, in another valid challenge, I was reminded that some of the finest lines in English literature are actually comma splices. Dickens was not a bad writer, most would agree. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” – not a bad start to a novel!

With both challenges in mind, perhaps the proscription shouldn’t have been quite as definitive as I suggested in my December blog.

This blog goes on to talk about some other realms of comma usage, including the serial (Oxford) comma and other uses.

Style Corner: One Space Or Two?

The question of whether to use one character space or two after a full stop is controversial for such a mild and unimportant topic.

It is also generational: kind of ‘baby boomers vs millennials’, as so many inter-generational disagreements are.

Don’t ask the Gen X-ers: they will probably just roll their eyes and shrug, as they do with all other disagreements between baby boomers and millennials.

In all seriousness it doesn’t matter too much. Although some advocates for each would argue that the other looks untidy, it is really a matter of fashion. Not grammar certainly, not usage, and barely style. Just fashion.

Which is not to say it is trivial. Content professionals can take it very seriously. Style guides carry opinions on it. It is worth knowing chapter and verse so you can make an informed decision.

But if someone who has decision-making authority over a piece of content – which could be a writer, a content director, an editor or even a publisher – really holds to the other one, let them. It really doesn’t matter. As long as they hold to it consistently and it is an unequivocal feature of their house or individual style guide.

Style Corner: 16 Tips on Hyphens and Dashes

This edition of Style Corner goes back to the topic of an earlier blog which looked at hyphens and dashes.

Hyphens can cause angst. The rules are, at best, complicated. And hang the rules, usage is complicated too. There is a generational split: older users prefer it, younger users demur.

Hart’s Rules on the hyphen are unusually apologetic and complex. To illustrate, check out Hart’s view on hyphenating noun compounds:

A compound term may be open (spaced as separate words), hyphenated, or closed (written as one word). However there is an increasing tendency to avoid hyphenation for noun compounds.

In this Style Corner we use the Always/Never/Sometimes construct, though this does miss some nuances.