Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Posts Tagged ‘punctuation

A confession and some lovely words

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hhuntitledI’m so ashamed. The butler claims he told me ages ago (he didn’t) and is now sulking in the pantry. I considered pretending that I knew all along but my reader, Gladys (who seems to be spending a lot of time with the butler lately), would never forgive me for lying. So I have to ‘fess up.

It’s all to do with ellipsis. Now, ellipsis (plural: ellipses) can mean two things:

  • a word or words that are left out (in speech or writing)
  • the punctuation mark of three dots … that indicates the position of the missing words.

images5D26IYSEWho could possibly get this wrong? Oh, that would me.

Because, apparently (she said, trying to suggest that it’s been a well-kept secret until now), when using the three dots as a punctuation mark, there has to be a space either side of them. (I *ahem* sort of thought there only had to be a space after the end of the final dot.)

Here’s a great example from the story The Sisters in James Joyce’s collection Dubliners:

No, I wouldn’t say he was exactly … but there was something queer … there was something uncanny about him. I’ll tell you my opinion …

(Not read Dubliners yet? Grab a copy – if only for the final genius story, The Dead.)

Multi-tasking

The ellipsis punctuation mark is also used in informal writing to indicate a trailing off of thought …

It can be used in this way both at the end of the sentence as above, or in the middle of a sentence:

I used to think I was good at this punctuation lark … oh, well, onwards and upwards.

education-project-class-a-schools-in-victorian-timesnowadays-in-the-uk-11-638Drama and hesitation

The ellipsis can also be used to build up dramatic effect:

I can’t believe it … you mean to say … he was the murderer?

Or hesitation:

Really? It doesn’t seem possible  … he seemed to … well, I’ll wait and see.

Note the correct use of a space either side of the ellipsis punctuation mark in all these examples. *makes note to self while standing in corner with dunce’s cap on*

In mitigation

What can I do to make up for all this? Oh, I know, share some lovely words with you.

61kXxVeed+L__SX323_BO1,204,203,200_These are stolen from an article by Robert Macfarlane, author of the bestselling book, Landmarks, a celebration of the relationship between words and landscapes:

  • burra: a sheltered spot, tucked away out of the wind , where certain flowers can grow (used in Oxfordshire, UK)
  • kesh: a makeshift ramp or bridge over a stream or marsh (Northern Ireland)
  • wicker: a goldfinch (Cheshire, UK)
  • dimmity or dimpsey: twilight (Devon, UK)
  • hazeling: of a spring morning, warm and damp, good for sowing seed (Hertfordshire, UK)
  • smeuse: the gap in the base of a hedgerow made by the regular passage of a small animal (Sussex, UK)
  • crizzle: the freezing of open water (Northamptonshire, UK)
  • zawn: a wave-smashed chasm in a cliff (Cornwall, UK)
  • ammil: the gleaming film of ice that cases twigs and blades of grass when a freeze follows a thaw (Devon, UK)

 And finally

Note that some style guides say that as well as a space either side of the ellipsis punctuation mark, there should be a space between each dot. But, hey, let’s not go mad; that would be a kesh too far.

Here here, snow, and a wasted opportunity

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unxftitledThe other day, while *cough* accidentally reading an article in the Guardian about the X Factor (a TV competition for wannabee singers that I never watch except for sometimes every week), I noticed that the comments thread had segued into a discussion about spelling and punctuation.

It began because someone had written ‘here here’ in response to a previous comment. Someone else said this should be either ‘here hear’ or  ‘hear here’, while a third said it should be ‘hear, hear’, contracted from ‘hear him, hear him’.KyoZG

Well, how interesting. (Although not to another commenter who pointed out that people who spend their time correcting others’ spelling are a bit sad.)

I (sadly) turned to the trusty Oxford Dictionaries site which informed me that the correct spelling and punctuation is: ‘hear! hear!’. It doesn’t bother with the derivation, though Wikipedia confirms that it’s a shortened form of ‘hear him’ (its punctuation is a bit dodgy).

Note that there isn’t universal agreement about this. Cambridge Dictionaries online says it should be punctuated ‘hear, hear!’. Which does, I admit, look a little less intrusive on the page.

Feefle and flindrikin

snowuntitledWhich brings me rather neatly (ahem) onto snow. Just a quick note of interest: did you know that our Scottish friends in the north of the UK have 421 words for snow?

One of my favourites is ‘skelf’ meaning a large snowflake. Every language should have a word for a large snowflake. 🙂

Wasted opportunity

133924Finally, while in a newsagent’s the other day, I caught sight of the cover of Acoustic Guitar magazine. The cover picture was of blues musician Robert Johnson who is supposed to have made a pact with the devil. The words next to the pic read:

Paying the devil his blues

‘Paying the devil his blues’ is based on the common proverb ‘give the devil his due’ (scroll down).  So, of course, the play on words in this MUSICAL example should have been:

Playing the devil his blues

Subeditors, eh? *sigh* Fings ain’t what they used to be.

That’s quite enough from me for now. I probably need to lie down.

Butler: ‘Hear, hear!’ (He prefers the single exclamation mark.)

Available now: Wordwatch for Kindle

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Wordwatch for KindleWell, the cover looks good… (that bit wasn’t me).

Here’s the blurb:

This is a basic guide to writing well. Aspects of grammar and punctuation that commonly cause confusion are demystified in plain English. You’ll find clear instructions on the correct use of possessive apostrophes, commas, speech marks, hyphens and semicolons.

Other topics include the subjunctive, split infinitives, and the difference between ‘fewer’ and ‘less’. You can also learn more about active and passive sentences; commonly used foreign words and phrases; and word classes, including nouns, adjectives and verbs.

Also included is a brief, no-nonsense guide to politically correct language.

Coming soon: a paperback version.

Available on Amazon.com and Amazon UK.

Ferdinand_Beer_Stillleben_mit_Folianten_und_Helm_1837

logocrop1

Comma sense

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IWC ref. 3707 (dial)
Image via Wikipedia

Suddenly, using commas seems a bit redundant.

See that comma there? See how important it is to the meaning of the sentence? If it was missing, I’d be startling you by suddenly using commas. Perhaps while I’m emptying the teapot, or putting petrol in the car.

So what’s this all about? Agencies who get paid loads of dosh for writing rubbish ad copy, that’s what. Here’s what I spotted:

Suddenly diving for treasure seems a bit redundant.

It’s a full-page ad in a glossy magazine for a very expensive IWC diving watch. Of course, what the cavalier copywriter meant to say was:

Suddenly, diving for treasure seems a bit redundant.

As in, if you’ve got the flash watch, there’s no need to dive for more treasure.

The first version means that it seems redundant to suddenly dive. Perhaps because you’ve got all day, and can choose your moment.

The comma.

Commas — fused sentences.

What’s the point? A guide to punctuation.

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