Law professor Eugene Volokh, of the eponymous blog The Volokh Conspiracy, posted today on punctuation rules. A self-described “descriptivist,” he writes that “descriptivists don’t deny there are rules — they just say the rules are dictated by “the will of custom, in whose power is the decision and right and standard of language.” He then goes on to discuss one of the two punctuation rules that befuddle my writing students throughout the semester–be they freshmen or seniors:
1. Place commas and periods inside quotation marks, e.g.,
The Court’s answer to this was “no.”
Seems simple enough, but it’s apparently not. I’ve stressed this little rule semester after semester, and yet . . .
This rule has a corollary:
2. Place all other punctuation marks outside quotation marks, unless they are logically parts of the quotation. I have seen some departures from this where semicolons or question marks are involved, but my sense is that those departures remain rather rare exceptions in modern legal publications.
The Court’s answer to this was “no”; but two years later, the Court changed its mind.
Was the Court’s answer “yes” or “no”?
The Court’s response was, in essence, “Says who?” [The question mark is logically part of the quotation.]
For what it’s worth, I’m a repenting prescriptivist.