You Have a Point There: A Guide to Punctuation and Its Allies

By Eric Partridge | Go to book overview

A CHAPTER ON AMERICAN PRACTICE * by

JOHN W.CLARK

WITH MANY of the particulars of difference between British and American practice in punctuation and its allies Mr. Partridge has already dealt, incidentally but sufficiently, in the main part of this book, so that I need not deal with them in this chapter in much detail. And yet some things remain to be said.

The principal impression that grew on me as I read Mr. Partridge's chapters was one that confirmed Mr. Partridge's severaltimes-repeated statement-and my previous general impression-that American punctuation tends to be more rigid than British, and more uniform, more systematic, and-I hope I shall be forgiven for adding-easier to teach and, once learnt, easier to use. (But note that I do not mean that in my opinion it is in all respects better.) This difference, for weal or woe, is owing, I think, to two facts: (1) Individualism or independence is less esteemed and less tolerated in the United States today than in Great Britain, especially that of the educated by the uneducated and (even more) by the half-educated. (2) Cultivated Americans more commonly and predominantly than cultivated Britons depend on reading and formal instruction rather than on oral (or aural) tradition. Both these facts, especially the latter, are in part results of the greater fluidity of American social classes, of the greater frequency and success of social climbing, of the often wider social breaches between generations of the same family, and of the insecurity and sequacity of social climbers. The secondary-school or college handbook of English usage (including punctuation and its allies) is more important and influential in the United States than in Great

* Note that in this chapter, in my use of “punctuation and its allies, I follow what I believe to be the standard (or at least generally acceptable) contemporary usage of the most reputable American printers (and of the most reliable American handbooks) of the present time. I do so not because I always think it ideally best (or even always use it), and certainly not in any spirit of intransigently chauvinistic nationalism, but because I think it will provide illuminating examples (in “orchestration, to boot) of some of the principles and practices discussed. For the same reason, incidentally, I use American spelling.

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