June 26th, 2007

now let me tell you what *i* think

And another thing: shut up


First of all, let's rid ourselves of that defense right now. People who deploy common-usage arguments in grammar almost always do so very selectively, insisting that usage has altered the 'correct' form of any word or phrase they don't care about but that there's a right and a wrong way to use any word or phrase they do care about. If you're a common-usage freak, then I don't ever wanna hear you bitch about grocer's quotes or "expresso" or anything else. Besides, I'm arguing that usage is mitigatory in my examples anyway; if people started to adopt them, they would soon transition into common usage despite their grammatical rightness or wrongness.


Speaking of wrongness, you are wrong about the Seventies. The Seventies are not all the years with a seventy in them. The Seventies are the years 1971-1980. You clearly do not agree, but YOU ARE WRONG. Consider:

- The first year of the After Common Era period was not Year Zero. It was year one.
- Which is why humorless pedants like me were running around in 1999 telling everyone to calm down, because it was not in fact the last year of the millennium. The last year of the millennium was 2000, and the first year of the new millennium was 2001.
- Why? Because you don't count a set of ten starting from zero and ending at nine. You count a set of ten starting from one and ending at 10 (or zero). It's very simple.
- Thus, the first calendar decade was Year 1, Year 2, Year 3, Year 4, Year 5, Year 6, Year 7, Year 8, Year 9 and Year 10.
- And, therefore, the Seventies were 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, and 1980.
- It's really perfectly simple.
- It might help you to understand if you think of 1980 not as "Nineteen Eighty", but rather "Nineteen Seventy Ten".
- "But," you say, "it's NOT nineteen seventy ten. It's nineteen eighty. It has an eight in it! It can't be in the '70s!"
- You say this because you are dumb.
- Just THINK ABOUT IT, for crissakes.


Okay, so, you people who think the quote mark goes outside the punctuation have a point. It is standard in American (though not British) English, and putting the punctuation outside the quote mark is, technically, 'wrong." (Or, as I prefer, "wrong".)

But! Grammar is not -- or rather, should not be -- about arbitrary definitions of 'right' and 'wrong'. (It is, of course, but it shouldn't be, which is one reason the Chicago Manual of Style is better than Strunk and White.) It is -- or rather, is intended to be -- about logic; that is to say, about whether or not a grammatical or stylistic practice is logical in comparison to other grammatical or stylistic practices that refer to it. It is for this reason that the British usage is superior: a quote mark is intended to denote content lifted from another context, content that is quoted. If you are not quoting the punctuation mark, the quote marks should not encompass the punctuation. It's simple and logical!

And, what's more, it's older and more established than the American practice -- it was the original use because it makes more sense. The reason the alternate "American" standard was adopted had nothing to do with grammar or logic; it had to do with technology. What's more, it had to do with a now-mooted technological problem that no longer exists! In the early days of the printing press, punctuation blocks -- especially commas and periods -- were the thinnest and weakest blocks in a type set and were thus the most likely to be mangled or destroyed in the printing process. The need therefore arose to "protect" the blocks by placing them not at the end of a sentence and before a space, where they were more likely to be damaged, but inside a stronger block that would "protect" them -- that is, the quote mark. The practice of placing punctuation inside the quotes arose purely from this need, and now that presses are more robust (and that more and more typesetting is done by computer), the need has long since ceased to exist, and there is no reason to cling to an entirely illogical grammatic usage borne from a vanished need.


The seven original members of the Justice League of America were Aquaman, Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Only 12 people got this right, and all of them are geeks: my own little Dirty Dozen of nerds. Not one female poster got it right (not even mckennl, though I'm going to blame that on the surgery), but one homosexual did, and five people who are married to actual women, so I'm not sure what that does to the comics geek stereotype.

Of correct guesses, the most common was Superman, who 91% of you placed in the original seven. The least commonly guessed original member was Martian Manhunter, to the tune of 46%; people always forget the Martian. The guy has green skin and runs around in chest straps and a posing pouch! What does he have to do to get your attention?

Of incorrect guesses, the most common, much to my surprise, was Hawkman; 39% of you placed the Thanagarian in the original JLA. The Atom was second at 27%, also a surprise to me; I'd have thought the league's first actual recruit, Green Arrow, would have ranked higher, but he was #3 at 25%. The least commonly guessed were Hawkwoman and Zatanna, because no one ever guesses the ladies will have a spot at the comics nerd table; each received only two votes. (Incidentally, 13% of you voted for Robin, the only one on the list who was never a member of the Justice League at all.)

life of the mind

Snaps of the Overeducated

That guy's so broke, he can't afford to pay marginal utility costs.

Why don't you make like a bastinado and beat feet?

You're just like the Paris Commune. No class.

If I wanted to hear from an asshole, I'd have read section 2 of William Burroughs' Naked Lunch.

Yo mama so fat, she in clear violation of the square-cube law.