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There’s an unfortunate tendency to believe that we are the inheritors of a Golden Age of Punctuation, and that people today are ruining it with their errant apostrophes, unnecessary quotation marks, and overabundant ellipses. I consider it unfortunate for two reasons. The first is that it exposes a vanity within us, a belief that we were decent enough in our day, but that the younger folks are ruining the brilliant language we built and maintained. The second is that it suggests that new teaching methods or new technology are primarily to blame for modern linguistic shortcomings, when the fact is that these errors existed back in our day as well. The problem isn’t (primarily) that kids aren’t being taught what we were, but rather that the new ideas failed to solve our problems.

So I really enjoy collecting examples of incorrect usage from the past, such as an apostrophe to mark a plural in a famous 1856 editorial cartoon or its with an apostrophe in a 1984 John Mellencamp music video, as a reminder that errors in English are not solely the province of the current age. At least some sources of these errors are timeless, and it’s just as important to fix the timeless ones as any uniquely modern sources.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has put together a beautiful multimedia presentation of one of the great moments of Pittsburgh sports history, the 1960 World Series. The ’60 Series, which concluded 50 years ago today, was your standard David-Goliath series. The relatively-unknown Pittsburgh Pirates (David) were up against the nearly-universally-hated New York Yankees (Goliath), and through the first six games the Yankees had outscored the Pirates 46-17. Despite the lopsided scoring, the Pirates and Yankees had split the six games 3-3, setting up the deciding Game Seven in Pittsburgh. The final game was a back-and-forth affair that was capped with a walk-off home run by “Maz” (Bill Mazeroski), a popular second baseman known for his glove, not his bat. The home run moved Maz into the pantheon of Pittsburgh sports legends, and in the minds of a few ambitious Pittsburghers, into politics:

“President”. Maybe these fellows were just being temperate in their revelry, knowing that Maz wasn’t really in the running for the Presidency. But I think it’s more likely that they’re just your average guys, making the same average misuses as we do 50 years later. In fact, I’m reminded of a picture I found a month ago of some Steeler fans who’d made an error of their own:

[Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images]

So it goes.

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A lot of people make claims about what "good English" is. Much of what they say is flim-flam, and this blog aims to set the record straight. Its goal is to explain the motivations behind the real grammar of English and to debunk ill-founded claims about what is grammatical and what isn't. Somehow, this was enough to garner a favorable mention in the Wall Street Journal.

About Me

I'm Gabe Doyle, currently a postdoctoral scholar in the Language and Cognition Lab at Stanford University. Before that, I got a doctorate in linguistics from UC San Diego and a bachelor's in math from Princeton.

In my research, I look at how humans manage one of their greatest learning achievements: the acquisition of language. I build computational models of how people can learn language with cognitively-general processes and as few presuppositions as possible. Currently, I'm working on models for acquiring phonology and other constraint-based aspects of cognition.

I also examine how we can use large electronic resources, such as Twitter, to learn about how we speak to each other. Some of my recent work uses Twitter to map dialect regions in the United States.



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