Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Migrating Usage Tip #4

Please excuse the lack of consistency with this Usage Tip feature. I spent the weekend writing a (possibly terrible) memorandum in support of a (fake) motion for summary judgment. If that sounds like gibberish to you, you are correct!

Today's Usage Tip comes from the always handy Elements of Style by Strunk and White. If you do not own this book, you owe it to yourself and anyone who has to read your writing to go out and buy it. Right. Now. If you consider book length-to-usefulness ratio, I would say with utmost confidence that Elements of Style is the best textbook on writing ever written.

A Few Matters of Form

Colloquialisms. If you use a colloquialism or a slang word or phrase, simply use it; do not draw attention to it by enclosing it in quotation marks. To do so is to put on airs, as though you were inviting the reader to join you in a select society of those who know better.

Exclamations. Do not attempt to emphasize simple statements by using a mark of exclamation.

It was a wonderful show! It was a wonderful show.

The exclamation mark is to be reserved for use after true exclamations or commands.

What a wonderful show!

Parentheses. A sentence containing an expression in parentheses is punctuated outside the last mark of parenthesis exactly as if the parenthetical expression were absent. The expression within the marks is punctuated as if it stood by itself, except that the final stop is omitted unless it is a question mark or an exclamation point.

I went to her house yesterday (my third attempt to see her), but she had left town.
He declares (and why should we doubt his good faith?) that he is now certain of success.

(When a wholly detached expression or sentence is parenthesized, the final stop comes before the last mark of parenthesis.)

William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White, The Elements of Style, 2000, pp.34-38.

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