January 14, 2019

How to Write People's Titles

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There are rules for writing people's titles, especially when it comes to capitalization. Here's what you need to know.

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A Very Questionable Mark
Posted by June on January 14, 2019
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Ever question the question mark? I don’t recommend it. Inquire about this quirky little squiggle and you’ll end up with more questions than answers.

Its history is a mystery. And its use can be downright puzzling.

Some theorize that the question mark was inspired by the tail of a cat — a sort of hovering commentary on the mysteries of feline nature. The ancient Egyptians often get credit, since they worshipped kitties to an extent the world wouldn’t see again till Grumpy Cat took the internet by storm.

Some researchers say the cat in question belonged to a monk who represented its tail at the end of questions in a manuscript.

Another theory claims scholars in the Middle Ages put the Latin word “quaestio” (question) at the end of a sentence, then abbreviated it to “qo,” then started positioning the q above the o to create something that looks like our modern-day question mark.

But the most common theory has it that an adviser to Charlemagne named Alcuin of York created the “punctus interrogativus,” which 1,000 years later became known as the question mark.

Chances are, we’ll never know where this mark came from. Chances are, too, that we’ll never fully master how to use one. Yes, I know it’s pretty easy to use a question mark in most cases. But most cases aren’t all cases. In my recent column, I look at where to place question marks relative to quotation marks, when they can be used in the middle of a sentence and the rare cases when a question mark is immediately followed by a comma.

June Casagrande is a writer and journalist whose weekly grammar/humor column, “A Word, Please,” appears in community newspapers in California, Florida, and Texas. more

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  • 'Whom' vs. 'Who' at the Beginning of a Sentence

    June A.S.: Everything you said is right, but I'm not sure which comment you're directing it at. Are you getting confused by passive voice as it comes into play in these sentences? "I called him" uses the object pronoun "him" because, as you said, is an object. When you invert that sentence to say "He was called," it's not the same sentence structure. In passive voice, the object of the action (so to speak) is made the grammatical subject of the sentence. So "He was called" does, as you said, required the subject pronoun "he." I don't believe anyone said anything to the contrary.

  • 'Whom' vs. 'Who' at the Beginning of a Sentence

    A.S. WRONG! If "Whom was called into the office" is a question then it's the equivalent of asking "Him was called into the office?" which is obviously wrong. If it's a statement it's still wrong. Look, it's not difficult: Me, him, her, them and whom are objects. I, he, she, they and who are subjects. If the person in the sample sentence is the object (as indicated by "whom") then the office must be the subject but there's no verb for the subject, so the person must be the subject and is therefore who. Understand?

  • E-mail vs. Email

    June Punctuation rules for American English are indeed "always" put the period or comma before the closing quote mark. British style is as you described (that is, it follows a certain logic). But American rules are rooted in a printing convention that originated from aesthetics concerns. I'm quite confident that this American convention will go the way of the dinosaur. Wikipedia is proof: Their style is situational in the way you described. But for now, it's the rule: The comma always goes "inside," as does a "period."

  • A Not-So-Thrilling Typo

    June Oops. Fixing now. (Better late than never.)

  • A Not-So-Thrilling Typo

    JR "An" Not-So-Thrilling Typo?