An important addition to the canon of practical usage guides went on sale this week: June Casagrande’s The Best Punctuation Book, Period.
Casagrande’s boldly titled book covers the established rules of punctuation, but it doesn’t shy away from odd constructions (where would you put a hyphen in “too widely known fact”? How do you make a movie title possessive when style calls for putting titles in quotation marks?). Copyeditors are regularly stopped cold by such peculiarities, and most guides don’t spend time in the world of coin-toss copyediting. Casagrande is not afraid to admit language is messy.
To help her tackle issues about which the big style guides are silent or vague, Casagrande assembled a punctuation panel, which included me. I thought it would be easy. Comma of direct address? Check. Multiple hyphens in complex compound modifiers? Go for it. I’m all over the semicolon—don’t even get me started.
But it was hard. Question after question forced me to stop and look at the options again and again, searching for clarity. On several questions, I changed my mind more than once, and I’m not confident I always ended up with the best answer. My method of reading Casagrande’s book thus far has been to look for the cases where the panel disagreed and assume that I was perpetually in the minority.
On great thing about The Best Punctuation Book, Period. is that it breaks down its answers by audience, acknowledging that the rules of language are different for newspapers, books, science publications, and academic journals. Part II of the book is a table for quick answers, labeled by medium.
Not covered, as far as I can see, is how to punctuate a book title that ends in an emphatic period (I would keep the period if the title falls in the middle of a sentence, but I would not double up if it appears at the end of a sentence).