April 5, 2012

Weekly Language Usage Tips: specially or especially & punctuation within quotation marks

Posted in especially/specially, punctuation & quotes at 8:10 am by dlseltzer

More on email

A friend recently sent me a link to a blog by Seth Godin which contains very useful tips about sending email—especially to a group. You might want to check it out—especially tip #29! Here is the link: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2008/06/email-checklist.html.

Tip 1: Especially or specially

A reader writes:

I read this in a manuscript:

The survey instrument was specially designed to be used by children under twelve years old.

And I realized that I didn’t know when to use ‘specially’ and when to use ‘especially,’ and I’m not even sure if the words mean the same. Will you help?

Sure, I am happy to do that, and the example you provide is a great one for illustrating the differences.

As adjectives, ‘especial’ (rarely used these days) and ‘special’ are synonyms meaning ‘different, and usually better, than usual.’

However as adverbs, ‘especially’ and ‘specially’ have distinct meanings. ‘Especially’ means ‘particularly’ or ‘above all.’

I am especially fond of carrots.

I am particularly fond of carrots.

‘Specially’ means ‘in a particular manner’ or ‘for a particular reason.’

The carrots were prepared specially.

The carrots were prepared in a specific manner.

In the reader’s example,

The survey instrument was specially designed to be used by children under twelve years old.

the author is saying that the survey instruments were designed in a specific manner; the emphasis is on how the instruments were designed.

If the sentence were written like this,

The survey instrument was designed especially to be used by children under twelve years old.

the author would be saying that the survey instruments were designed particularly for children under twelve; the emphasis is on for whom the instruments were designed…they could be used by anyone but they would be best used by those under twelve.

Is that distinction clear? Let me try a couple more examples:

The poodle was specially trained to perform tricks.

Here, the dog was trained for a specific purpose—to do tricks.

All of the dogs learned the tricks quickly, especially the poodles.

Here, we are pointing out that poodles, above all other breeds, learned the tricks quickly.

To my ear, ‘specially’ is a little too informal for our scientific writing, so I would probably use another word if I were preparing a publication:

The poodle was specifically trained to perform tricks.

Of course, I wouldn’t be writing about poodles and tricks either, but that’s another story.

Tip 2: Commas and periods and quotation marks

I try to be nice—I really do. But sometimes, it just gets to me.

Right now, I have been reading lots of proposals, and in proposal after proposal after proposal, folks are putting their periods and commas outside of the quotation marks.

I don’t understand it; it’s not that hard. And we’ve been over it before—more than once. I’m not even going to get into question marks and semicolons and colons and exclamation points—we can talk about them another time—they have their own issues. Let’s just stick to periods and commas. There is no controversy; there are no differing points of view (at least within the US—folks in UK do it differently, but we are here in the US, so it shouldn’t be this hard to get it right).

This is it: periods and commas should go inside the closing quotation mark. Every single time. Style books concur. In the US, this is how we do it. I dread saying this, but as far as I know, there are no exceptions.

I know some of you dispute the logic of this placement of commas and periods, and I understand your point of view, and I honestly do feel your pain, but GET OVER IT. Life is hard, and this is just the way it is: commas and periods should go INSIDE the closing quotation mark.

Their research resulted in a publication titled, “Delayed visual evoked response in optic neuritis.”

NOTE:  ‘Titled’ is correctly used here. There is a tendency to use ‘entitled’ in this situation. Try to avoid that; people are entitled to things; books and papers are not.

Let’s get back to the issue of commas and periods inside the closing quotation mark. How important is it? It is such a little thing; it must be inconsequential. This is why I think it’s important: let’s say you have submitted a grant proposal or journal manuscript for review, and one of the reviewers is a picky old fool like me who gets annoyed when she sees this error. She is not going to let that influence her score or review—at least not consciously—but her overall annoyance may unconsciously bias her review negatively. Why take that chance? It’s difficult enough these days to secure funding or get published, it makes no sense not to do everything to make life easy for the reviewer who can control so much in our lives. Clear writing is essential, but so is attention to grammar and punctuation.

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