EducationPop QuizTechnology

Pop Quiz: Defending your punctuation

Recently, Jennifer posted about weirdness in collective pronouns between English english and American english.  Two nations, divided by a common language, yadda yadda yadda.

Given my user name, yeah I have a dog in this race.  I agree with Jennifer that consistency is more important than being “right” when it comes to grammar, especially given the rules tend to move around when you’re not looking at them. (Comma OUTSIDE the quotes?!  Argh!)

Except the Oxford comma.

You can have my Oxford comma when you pry it from my cold, dead, unambiguously-punctuated hands.

-Jonathan Korman (@miniver)

Don’t mess with my Oxford comma!  Or the difference between its and it’s [shudder].  And data are plural! (I recently did tell someone to get off my lawn – I am becoming a cliche!)

One of my colleagues uses the em-dash like confetti.


It’s all Gutenberg’s fault. In one of my non-science classes, I enjoyed listening to people pronounce Middle English words – did you know that all those “extra” letters were once pronounced?  Once the printing press became standard though, so did spellings, even when languages changed.

I find my students come in with the basics more or less covered, but they don’t seem to have enough practice in writing.  Mostly, their grammar is ok, but there’s always the misplaced apostrophe, the random comma, or the confusion over then and than, etc.  What bugs me though is the students ignore what technology brings.  There are built-in grammar checkers people!  If Word (oy!) tells you to put a comma before which, just do it!  While I grant sometimes Word is just wrong, usually there’s a good reason it’s calling that usage to your attention.  I’m not a huge fan of letting technology take over the process of learning how to right correctly, but come on!  Use the tools available!  I, mostly due to my need for rules and such, do know way too much about grammar and how to apply the rules, so occasionally I argue with my word processor, but not all that often.

So here’s my question to you, when’s the last time you questioned your word processor’s grammar?  Do you encourage others to rely on grammar checkers or do you think they are the work of the devil?

The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the afternoon (ET).

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Apostrophobia is a college professor at a women's college in the US. She teaches biology, does pedagogical research on her guinea pigs (aka students), and has an existential fear of misplaced apostrophes.


  1. July 14, 2014 at 1:01 pm —

    Isn’t there some rule that writing about grammar/pubctuation means there will be at least one error? I used the wrong right up there!

    • July 17, 2014 at 12:16 am —

      I thought that was an intentional joke, given the context!

      No plural data for me though: the singular usage has always been more prevalent in English, making into something more like an uncountable noun. Especially since “datum” is pretty much never used by anyone, ever, for any reason. There is a much better argument for “media” (which occasionally does get the singular treatment) since “medium” is actually in common usage.

      • July 21, 2014 at 10:58 am —

        If only I were that clever…
        I guess I’m also the last person around using datum too. Oh well.

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