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On redundancies, compound words and pesky closing punctuation marks

  • Article by: STEPHEN WILBERS
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • May 22, 2011 - 4:48 PM

John (aka Bulwer-Lytton) writes:

"My most favoritist example of redumblancy is the University High School geography teacher here in Irvine, California, whose letter was published in the local print newspaper, you know. Therein, he called the Soviet Union 'the world's largest country in area size.' This is of course in stark contrast to the world's largest country in area volume, area height, or area something else, of which I cannot be certain or even sure."

As John so aptly illustrates, redundant categories are more than cosmetic in appearance and annoying in nature. They're also numerous in number. Watch out for them.

Like John, Joel is annoyed by unnecessary words, as when people respond to a question like "How is your health?" by saying "So now I'm feeling better."

So I think Joel has found a pattern then.

Debbie questions the spelling of a certain compound word:

"I was wondering about the spelling of summer time. Should it be one or two words? If used as an adjective, shouldn't it be one word, as in summertime blues? If used as a noun, shouldn't it be summer time? Tell me please, am I on the right track?"

Yes, you're on the right track, but you jumped on the wrong train.

Certain compound words do change their spelling according to how they are used, most commonly according to whether they're used as verbs or adjectives, as in "Did you set up the room according to my setup request"? Some words, however, are always spelled as spaced compounds, such as high school students and work release programs. Others are always spelled as solid compounds, such as homeowner and marketplace. But summertime is summertime, as in "Summertime is when you're most likely to get the summertime blues." Because these spellings are sometimes arbitrary, I've created a handy quick-reference list at www.wilbers.com/part24.htm.

Pat has a similar question:

"I'm working on a report, and I find myself defaulting to into for everything, yet I see in to used in other text. ... I could not readily find guidance of when to use one form or the other. Got any hints?"

Yes, I do. If this compound indicates direction or relationship, spell it as one word, as in "I lowered myself into the canoe," not "I lowered myself in to the canoe." If in inflects or changes the meaning of the verb, however, spell it as two words, as in "I turned the criminal in to a police officer," not in "I turned the criminal into a police officer."

Finally, Tom asks which is the correct order of the closing punctuation marks in Would you like "x", "y" or "z"? or Would you like "x," "y" or "z?"

Unlike commas and periods, which always go before closing quotation marks, question marks and exclamation marks go before closing quotation marks only when they are part of the quotation, as in Did he really ask, "Why?"

Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at wilbe004@umn.edu. His website is www.wilbers.com.

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