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The Question Mark

weather: gloriously sunny
outside: 16.0°C
mood: amused
It's always fascinating how much the language of a society says about its people. Everything from the syntax, grammar, semantics, pragmatics, all the way to the errors and deviations we make in our language.

Increasingly, I'm seeing a lot of insanity with the question mark.

"Could you please do this."

Sometimes, sentences that are commands are phrased as questions without a question mark. People want to be polite and ask others to do things rather than demand that it be done. And "to ask" intuitively means using the interrogative. I understand. But there exists a standard English grammatical structure to accomplish this correctly: "Please do this. Thank you."

"What is the estimated timeframe for delivery."

Sometimes, it's a clue as to the person's tone when they're writing things exactly as they're saying it in their head. They're requesting an answer to an open-ended question and they forget that just because their voices drop, instead of rise, at the end of the question, it's still the interrogative form which still needs to end with a question mark.

I also find it amusing that people will put question marks in where they don't belong, just because their intonation rises.

"I wonder if something is true?"

This is not a question. To wonder whether something is true is a statement, even though you're pondering something you don't know and would very likely ask it as a question.

"When you have a moment? Could you take a look at that other problem."

*ROFLcopter* =D The question mark has now become less of an indicator of a question and more of a voice intonation marker.

It's sloppiness, very simply. Even with all the excuses in the book, the legitimate ones and the illegitimate ones, it's still sloppiness. I have a whole train of thought on my theories as to why people are so damned sloppy, but that's another post.

In any case, please don't punctuate questions with a period and please use a comma to punctuate various auxiliary phrases that belong in the same sentence. Thank you. =)


Comments

( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
deslea
Apr. 25th, 2005 09:03 pm (UTC)
I also find it amusing that people will put question marks in where they don't belong, just because their intonation rises.

So, I was mentally poking fun right along with you until this. And then a thousand comments I've written flashed before my eyes. Mostly in the form of Dude? Next time you [something stupid], don't forget to [witty rejoinder].

*facepalms*

Dude? You've totally ruined my wise-ass stock-in-trade.
xinit
Apr. 25th, 2005 09:20 pm (UTC)
Eats, Shoots, & Leaves...

She does get pretty pedantic, but it's an interesting read, and has taught me how to use semicolons; I never understood how before.
axiem
Apr. 25th, 2005 09:22 pm (UTC)
I need to get ahold of that book. On the wishlist!
axiem
Apr. 25th, 2005 09:21 pm (UTC)
Hm. I've noticed it, though perhaps not as consciously as you have.

I know that in my prose, if I turn a question into a statement, I usually tag something indicating that I did it purposefully (like, "'You keep doing this. Why.' It was a statement, not a question", although that's a bad example).

Thing is, I don't necessarily find it such a bad thing that the question mark is turning into an intonation indicator also. I dislike how people are using periods instead of question marks for questions, but it doesn't bother me that question marks are being used as rising-intonation statements. I see it more as a transition in the English writing system to being more indicative of how we speak.

In the past, writing was very different from the way people spoke: you just said things differently. You phrased things differently. In general, what I see now is a transition to being more a reflection of how we speak. Of course, some of it is annoying (overprevalance of commas, which I'm guilty of; bad spelling and such, which is very very annoying), but I'm not convinced that turning writing into a very conversational thing is necessarily bad--although we should still keep the formal writing style, too.

I'm weird, though. I like playing with language. Maybe? :P
(Deleted comment)
kalev
Apr. 25th, 2005 11:30 pm (UTC)
I love that you've commented on people's sloppiness with grammar. (Well, punctuation in this case but grammar in general.) Basically, people have no idea how to write and are lazy to boot.

The most aggravating example I can think of is how people seem to have reversed the formation of the possessive and the plural. It's (not its, another common gotcha that people can't seem to be bothered with) crazy and drives me buggy! The possessive is formed with an apostrophe (Kalev's rant) and the plural is formed (usually) just with an "s" (the many rants of Kalev).

I realise that sometimes the apostrophe is used in the plural for newfangled constructions like the "the 80's" and that Americans are stupid and contruct the possessive of words ending in "s" (and plural possession) with "s's" (the dress's buttons, the diners's food) but just because that's become a pseudo-acceptable exception doesn't mean you can backform it into all plural forms using an apostrophe.

P.S. That being said, I can never figure out how to write the plural of "ex," as in short for "ex-boyfriend." Is it ex's? Ex-s? Exes?)

P.P.S. Another thing that bugs me, which you see a lot from computer people, is punctuation not included within quotation marks. That is to say, "I had fun replying to Sience's recent grammar post". I know there's actually a reason for this in that if you're giving instructions to someone, you want to be as clear as possible, and really the "click here" link doesn't include a comma, which people may look for if your instructions say:
First click the button that says "click here," then hit the button labelled "don't push me."
(in addition to wondering if the "don't push me" button is the same as the "don't push me." button) but it's just maddening overall.

I'll shut up now.
(Deleted comment)
bride
Apr. 26th, 2005 01:03 am (UTC)
I see Canadians, Europeans and people from everywhere doing it too. And judging from my Dad's rants about my cousins' hooped up grammar in their Chinese letters to us, sloppiness is a universal problem.

Another thing that bugs me, which you see a lot from computer people, is punctuation not included within quotation marks.

I find that one really tough to adhere to. It MUST BE NESTED properly or it will give you compile errors!! AAAAA!!!

I'll shut up now.

Yeah, I keep saying that too, but it never happens =)
science_vixen
Apr. 27th, 2005 08:42 pm (UTC)
" It MUST BE NESTED properly or it will give you compile errors!! AAAAA!!!"
I know that feeling. While we're at it I sometimes get horribly confused about sentences with brackets. I never know whether the brackets should go before or after the point (like this). Before the period makes more sense to me as it belongs with that sentence.

As for the 'quotation bit': there is two different ways of using the apostrophe:
  1. as a quote or a 'label', in which case the punctuation goes outside the quotation marks;
  2. as emphasis to your text, in which case the punctuation goes withing the quotation marks.
Also People, lists like these are part of the starting sentence and don't capitalise.Truth be told, I never used the semi-colon until after university, so I might have used it wrong here. I'll try and find your entry on it. ^_^
bride
Apr. 28th, 2005 01:34 am (UTC)
End-of-sentence punctuation definitely goes outside the parentheses. The round ones are parentheses, the square ones are brackets and the curly ones are braces. =)

And, you're right, the semi-colon doesn't end a sentence so you don't capitalize the word right after it.
science_vixen
Apr. 28th, 2005 06:16 am (UTC)
Thank you.
We never got those terms in english, so most people I know here in the netherlands refer to them just as (brackets) [Square brackets] and {curly brackets}.

Your names make much more sense. ^_^
bride
Apr. 28th, 2005 06:41 am (UTC)
We never learn these things either. I just seem to have a penchant for osmosing it from who knows where. =)
science_vixen
Apr. 29th, 2005 06:46 pm (UTC)
Wonderful (but sometimes vexing) thing that: Osmosis.
pling
Apr. 26th, 2005 10:41 am (UTC)
In the UK it is correct not to include the punctuation inside the quotation marks, unless it's part of the quotation. That only holds true as an excuse for the people you're annoyed at if they're actually British or writing for a British audience though ;)
sophia
Apr. 26th, 2005 03:50 pm (UTC)
or living in british english influenced countries, of which there are a lot
kalev
Apr. 26th, 2005 07:13 pm (UTC)
Oh if only they had that excuse! I'm pretty sure it's sloppiness and not that they were taught differently.
rettstatt
Apr. 26th, 2005 02:28 am (UTC)
Where would language geekiness rank with your other areas of geekiness? I ask with a great deal of fondness for language geeks...

I'd have to say language geekiness ranks at the very top for me, no matter how I try to avoid it. I really should have tried to become a linguist

Back on topic, this happens a lot with commas. Even with the writers at my company, I notice commas where they would take breaths if they were speaking. It doesn't bother me much, because the whole point of writing is to capture spoken language as accurately as possible. It isn't until the next step that you try to standardize everything, and when you are standardizing, you're always going to have plenty of bugs and glitches.

bride
Apr. 26th, 2005 02:33 am (UTC)
Haha, I dunno... on the side? =D

Linguistics is fascinating. I wish I knew about it earlier in life.
pne
Apr. 26th, 2005 09:00 am (UTC)
*LOL-copter*

Hadn't seen that before. I'd seen "LOLlerskates" and "ROFLcopter", though.
bride
Apr. 26th, 2005 03:38 pm (UTC)
Ha, yeah, it is ROFLcopter. I realized that after I posted XD =D
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )

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