Originally Posted by trogdor
I disagree. Here's an appeal to authority for a rationale. From Brian Cantwell Smith's On the Origin of Objects (MIT Press, 1996)
"I think it is not only acceptable, but a good idea, to "use "˜they' and its derivatives ("˜them,' "˜their,' etc.) as syntactically plural but semantically singular third-person personal pronouns of unmarked sex. It seems the best alternative. "˜He/she' and "˜his or her' are irretrievably awkward, and no entirely new or invented word is ever likely to be satisfactory. And there is precedent. In the second person case, we are entirely accustomed to using the syntactically plural "˜you' to convey semantically singular as well as semantically plural meanings. (In formal writing, the syntactically plural "˜we' is even sometimes used as a stylised and somewhat detached form of singular first-person reference"”though I myself prefer the syntactically singular "˜I'.) So using "˜they' fits into a general pattern of employing the grammatically plural form when pointed, individual reference is not justified. Admittedly, at least today, "˜the painter picked up their brush' will sound awkward and informal to some (to say nothing of "˜they washed themself'). But the awkwardness may pass, and anyway informality is better than artifice."
No sir, I don't like it. I think I read this in an English class, and I think that giving in to the lazy way is wrong. However, I also think that using the PC "his or her" every time is ridiculous. In unsure cases I tend to use the most likely correct pronoun and default to the male, as my way of sticking it to The Woman.
On the placement of commas and periods with respect to quotation marks, I used the "phone a friend" option. His take is pretty interesting:
Purely logically, if the final word in a sentence is quoted, but the whole sentence is not quoted, it would seem as if the ending quote mark should preceed the final period. Purely logically, that is, it would seem as if (S1) would be the "correct" punctuation, as opposed to (S2):
S1. He called it "post-hoc rationalization".
S2. He called it "post-hoc rationalization."
On so-called monospaced or "fixed-width" fonts (fonts like those on old-fashioned typewriters, in which each letter is given the same amount of horizontal space on a line), the logical answer is also the correct answer. So if typing on a typewriter, follow S1:
S1'. He called it "post-hoc rationalization".
According to professional typographers, however, the situation changes with so-called proportionally-spaced (or "variable-width") fonts"”that is, fonts that allocate different amounts of horizontal space to each letter, depending on how wide it is (i.e., so that "˜i' ends up using quite a bit less space than the letter "˜w'). In such cases, they say, the final period or comma should be "moved inside" the quote marks. Thus, in a proportionally-spaced font, (S2) above is correct, rather than (S1). This is the convention you will find enforced if you publish a book or article in a professional journal.
Why contravene logic? The typesetters' answers are roughly these:
a. Printed periods and commas are so small that, if they are "out on their own," rather than nestled against a character, the eye tends to treat them as specks or bits of dirt. We think of periods as mere dots, that is; but in reality (so typesetters claim) psychological truth is that to be a period is to be a small dot nestled to the right and towards the bottom of a character.
b. When a period or comma is brought inside a quote mark, the subsequent character kerning means that, in the final output, the period and the quote mark will be almost on top of each other, vertically. Whereas a monospaced font (S1'), above, would put the quote mark decidedly to the right of the period, in a proportional font it ends up barely to the right at all.
c. Human reading processes are not only automatic and subconscious, but proceed in parallel. Given (a) and (b), therefore there isn't really much psychological reality, in (S2), to the fact that the period is to the right of the quote mark; really, it is read almost simultaneously.
I don't know what you make of these arguments. I used to be a strict rationalist, and thus to prefer (S1) over (S2). But working with professional typesetters has convinced me that I was being naive and intransigent, and that they were right that, in the proper (now common) circumstances they described, (S2) is the way to go.
Two final comments:
a. It is only periods and commas that "move in inside the quote marks" in this way; semicolons, colons, question marks, and exclamation points all stay outside.
b. In some circumstances, sense dictates that these rules should be over-ruled. One example is when spelling itself is the subject matter. Thus (i) is clearly to be preferred over (ii):
i. Your password is the string "cat23-45".
ii. Your password is the string "cat23-45."
Great answer. However, I will continue doing it my way unless what I write is destined for print.