puncuation marks and quotes

Friday, December 14, 2007

In England and its brood of little Englets -- Canada, parts of the West Indies, Wales, we suppose, we forget if India is still under their rule -- periods and commas go outside the quote marks. This may seem unremarkable to many Americans until they're informed that in their own country precisely the opposite is done. (Most Americans, however, believe it fluctuates with each sentence.)

Here's how the same sentence is correctly written in each respective country:

America: "I love lamp."
England: 'I love lamp'. (In England a single mark denotes a quote.)

Neither of these seems satisfactory, though, because in both there's an ambiguity between whether the period refers to what is being quoted or the sentence in which it appears. In America, since the punctuation appears inside the quote marks, it's sensible to conclude that the period refers to what is being quoted -- we can be assured that "I love lamp" is the entire quote and that nothing else follows.

In England, however, since the punctuation appears outside the quote mark, it's equally sensible to conclude that the period refers to the sentence in which the quote appears. We can be sure the speaker or author has finished his sentence, but we can't be sure whether they've delivered all of or only a portion of the quote. Since there's no period to denote the quote's end, something further, such as 'smothered in mint jelly' could follow, making the entire quote, in actuality, 'I love lamp smothered in mint jelly'.

Ideally, we could write this:

And that's when he said, "I love lamp.".

Which would indicate both the end of the quote and the sentence, but that looks rather grotesque.