Making my way through Asia (and grad school) one adventurous step at a time.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Adventures in Punctuational Pet Peeves... (Part II)

After enjoying a lovely weekend, and breathing in the brisk September air, some of my tiradical tendencies have been whisked away like an autumn leaf. Nonetheless, I'm still going to wrap up my piece on the misuse of quotation marks. I'm sure both of my readers are thrilled.

For some unfortunate reason, a remarkably large segment of the population seems to think that quotation marks aren't just for indicating reported speech or sarcasm anymore. Somewhere along the line, this unassuming, straightforward and highly functional piece of punctuation has been stripped of it's crown of coherency and assigned to take over the roles of underlining, italicizing and large print to indicate emphasis.
In a fit of indignation, I did a quick Google search looking for examples of misused quotation marks.

My search took me to the website which, as Jennifer pointed out in her comments on my last post, is a fantastic site dedicated to the indignities the poor quotation marks have suffered over the years and across the globe. Diving into that site, I found my way to Jocelyn Noveck's article in the Washington Post on September 21, 2007. In that article, I discovered a fabulous quote that sums up my sentiments quite succinctly:

"I have a thing against overuse of quotations, period," says [Pat] Hoy,
director of the expository writing program at New York University. "Whether
in academic or bureaucratic writing, it's giving up responsibility for what
you're writing. It's a pushing aside of the responsibility to be the major
thinker in the piece."

Bravo, Pat Hoy, Bravo!! Take note BBC correspondents! I implore you to step up and take responsibility for your writing!
Throw down your useless, deceptive, misleading, annoying, random inverted commas. Cast off the chains of wishy-washy, pudding-brained, over-punctuated, wimposity!! (I can still make up my own words, since I'm not being paid to be a leader in maintaining high standards in the written word.)

Whew, have you ever noticed that when you're on a roll, it's easier to write with an impassioned indignation that you don't really feel? In my head, when I see misused quotation marks, I think "Humph, that's irritating", but when I start writing, I suddenly find a dusty old soapbox to stand on, metaphorically shaking my fist at the sky.

Adventures in punctuational pet peeves... (Part I)
~Oh yes, hold on to your seat, this is going to be a 2 Part rant on punctuation. The fun never ends!!~

For quite some time now, I have cringed every time I've scanned the BBC headlines. Yes, much of the news is certainly cringe-worthy, but that's not what's been setting my teeth on edge. The overabundance of 'quotation marks' offsetting 'information' in the headlines is driving me bonkers. When not actually used for reporting the direct speech of a someone else, quotation marks have traditionally indicated sarcasm or fallacy, or innuendo. Take the following sentence as an example: Susan 'cooked' a really 'good' dinner last night. Reading this, I would expect that Susan didn't cook a thing. The dinner was actually take-out, and it was disgusting.

Brief tirade on the role of punctuation here, including a hastily conceived simile ...skip it if you're bored already....

I admit that despite my desire to see myself as progressive, and accepting of the fact that language changes and evolves, I drag my feet at changes to punctuation use. Punctuation is, and always has been, a way to keep sentences in order. Each little jot, tittle and squiggle performs a specific function (or funtions) to make things clear and comprehensible for the reader. To paraphrase Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots and Leaves, if a sentence is a busy city street, punctuation is the traffic signs. Just as city planners don't go bananas and decide that perhaps a green light could also function as a yield sign, or a red light could serve double-duty as a U-turn signal, neither should punctuation marks be arbitrarily assigned new duties.

Now, back to my point...

What was it? Ah, yes, the BBC. Keeping in mind that quotation marks serve to indicate that the statement isn't really true, take a look at the following headlines from today:

- US Congress 'agrees bail-out deal' (and by 'agrees on a bail-out deal' we really mean it was a disagreement over a Happy Meal.)
- Records 'hurt' women's athletics (Hee hee, just joking. They've really helped quite a bit.)
- Finnish massacres 'may be linked' (Or, we could just be making it up, and there's no connection whatsoever.)
- Bush still 'hopeful' on Mid-East (and by 'hopeful' we really mean he's curled up in the fetal position rocking back and forth waiting for his term to finish as soon as humanly possible.)
- Modi 'cleared' over Gujarat riots (and by 'cleared' we mean he'll probably be spending 5 years in prison.)

Do you see how tossing quotation marks about willy-nilly can cause some major traffic jams on the highway of communication!? Some may argue that the quotation marks in the headlines are there because those words were actaully said by someone quoted in the article. No doubt! I have often said 'hopeful', 'cleared' and 'hurt'. A quotation mark around a single word is utterly useless as an indication of reported speech, and all it does is make me disbelieve the headline.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Adventures in an unexpected blink...

Yesterday was Chuseok - generally referred to as the Korean Thanksgiving. Traffic is usually utter mayhem the day before and the day after, as the entire country makes their way back to parents' or grandparents' homes. To be truthful, traffic in Korea usually has a twinge of mayhem in it anyway. Drivers are skillful, but often impatient and ... well... rude, by Canadian driving standards. Imagine my surprise while I was driving to church yesterday to recieve a 'courtesy blink' from another driver! A car came barelling up on my rear bumper at an alarming speed, so I squeezed myself in between two busses in the next lane to let him pass. Once he was passed, I pulled back out into my original lane. Imediately, the speedy car gave me a 2-flash 4-way flasher blink! It was a courtesy blink - the likes of which I've never seen in Korea before!!! I felt all warm and fuzzy inside.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Adventures in Little House on the Prairie...

I'm now back in Korea after a lovely vacation, and should be back to my semi-regular musings soon. I thought I should take a moment though and wish Little House on the Prairie a happy 34th birthday! That's right - on September 11th, 1974, viewers were introduced to the TV versions of Ma, Pa, Laura and Mary Ingalls...and endured (ahem...loved) the sappy, drippy, wholesome storylines for many years.