Today, September 24th, is National Punctuation Day. My colleague Jeff Rubin founded National Punctuation Day “to draw attention to the importance of proper punctuation. It’s a day for educators, parents, and librarians — people who are interested in teaching and promoting good writing skills to their students and their children. It’s also a day to remind business people that they are often judged by how they present themselves.”
No natural-born pedant can object to such a cause.
What I do object to, having seen Jeff present the grown-up version of the Punctuation Playtime show he does for kids, is the slavish devotion to Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and the refusal to acknowledge that once you get out of grade school, a lot of what we once thought of as “grammar rules” turn out to be style questions that depend on whether you’re following the Chicago Manual of Style, the AP Stylebook, or another set of guidelines for how to handle everything from serial commas to apostrophes with the plural “s.”
And let’s not forget that different English-speaking nations have different standards for punctuation. It’s not just that the British use inverted commas instead of quotation marks: they handle commas and apostrophes differently than Americans do. (They also have a habit of saying “different to,” instead of “different from,” but I’m told that’s incorrect even in the UK, no matter how common it is.)
Strunk and White is great for getting you through high school and through basic business communications, but if you’re going to go into the business of communications, you’ll need to invest in a few more style guides, or at least inquire into which one your company bases its house style on.
Meanwhile, for a nuanced approach to these pesky questions of usage, I recommend listening to Grammar Girl’s Quick & Dirty Tips for Better Writing.