David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
A Period Piece

September 2004:  The WCAC editor was constantly being asked to justify APA.  It would have been easier to justify Suzi Quatro on Happy Days.

WCAC/QuAAC Corner:  A Period Piece

David Fleming, division chair, English, humanities and communication

Gary Franchy, division chair, math

Gary:  Dave, I have a bone to pick with you.

Dave:  Please, no more dog jokes. The SPCA may fine us. Besides, we shouldn't use our Virtual Connection space to grind personal axes.

Gary:  I speak for many others on this one. There is another upsurge of grumbling about your precious little APA.

Dave:  Uh, no habla ingles.

Gary:  Wow, and you were still able to land this job?

Dave:  Hey, I'm also division chair of foreign languages, but there just isn't enough room on my title line to list that.

Gary:  There are a number of us who want to understand the completely illogical notion about end punctuation and closing quotation marks. I cite:  "When a period or comma occurs with closing quotation marks, place the period or comma before, rather than after, the quotation marks" (Publication Manual, 2001, p. 293).  There is no logic to writing "APA Style." Look at that last sentence, Skip; why would the phrase "APA Style" require a period within the quote itself? 

Dave:  You are really bothered by all things irrational and illogical, aren't you?

Gary:  Not all things.

Dave:  Yeah, right! How about "Please put litter in its proper place."

Gary:  I'm not the only one that finds that illogical.

Dave:  "Jumbo shrimp?"  "Plastic glasses?"  "Microsoft Works?"

Gary:  Now you're just being oxymoronic.

Dave:  The popularity of Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie?

Gary:  {Trembling} O.K.! What's your point?

Dave:  Oh, nothing. Anyway, back to your question. Don't just blame APA by the way. The Modern Language Association also has the same rule.

Gary:  That's hardly an endorsement by the way.  You merely have ducked from the obsessively compulsive academic group to another one.

Dave:  Why worry, anyway?  It's only a convention.

Gary:  That's what they told Richard J. Daley.

Dave:  The British and the Americans have taken different approaches to the period and the question mark controversy. Nevertheless, the excellent recent book Eats, Shoots and Leaves does address some of the historical perspective on the "punctuation within quotation marks" issue.

Gary:  Groan.  "Historical perspective!"  Can't you ever simply answer a question?

Dave:  Hey, you have your high-falutin' technical language that obscures your QuAAC answers.  I have my contextual asides.  Please allow me my persiflage.

Gary:  Never in mixed-company.  Look, the sciences understand the illogic of APA punctuation rules. The Council of Biology Editors in their 1994 updated style manual revised their convention on the period; they have adopted the far more logical British style (Ivey, 2004). 

Dave:  "Understand the illogic?" O.K., Gary. Let's address the why: according to the Guide to grammar and writing (2004), this American convention has its origins in the delicate nature of printing press metal.  To put it simply, when the period came after the quotation mark, the metal was thin and strained, thus much more likely to break. Does that make you feel any better?

Gary:  Seriously, Dave, Steve Guttenberg is ancient history, let alone the printing press.  The British know what they're doing in this matter. The Council of Biology Editors knows what it's doing.  Why can't the other fields "turn and face the strain. Ch-Ch-changes."

Dave: One word:  "fa-fa-fashion." You know as well as the next guy that changes come very slowly, especially in areas such as this.  Consider the metric system: You and I and the rest of America had to perform hundreds of calculations with metric in high school or college, but do you see it being used much in America?

Gary:  "Two liter bottles of pop?"

Dave:  And grams of fat or carbs on food. That's it. Actually, it's illogical that we don't use the metric system with dieting.  It sounds a whole lot better when I say that I weigh 104 (kilograms), but that's not the standard we use.

Gary:  Hmm...104 kilograms, times 2.2 pounds per kilogram . . .

Dave:  Don't go there, Math Boy!

Gary:  I still have faith that logic may win out. However, I still wait patiently for the bank sign to switch from Celsius back to Fahrenheit.

Dave:  Repeat after me, Gary.  Language doesn't have to follow rules or logic.  As a wise sage once said, "Chocolate cake is fattening. It just IS. Deal with it."  And, yes, we're likely to keep seeing that period inside the final quotation mark for years to come. 


American Psychological Association (APA). (2001). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association. Washington, D.C.: Author.

Ivey, K. (2004).  Scientific style manual aspires to international scope.  EEI Communications.  Retrieved September 27, 2004, from http://www.eeicommunications.com/eye/cbe.html

Quotation Marks. (2004). Guide to grammar and writing.  Retrieved September 27, 2004, from http://webster.commnet.edu/grammar/marks/quotation.htm#footnote

Truss, L. (2004).  Eats, shoots & leaves: The zero tolerance approach to punctuation. New York: Gotham Books.