Tuesday, August 02, 2005

rules for usinf Commas & Hyphens

I’m just finishing the fantastic book “Eat’s, Shoots and Leaves”, and I never thought that I would enjoy a book about English Grammar so much. I especially love the cover:

It validates that I know a whole lot more than I thought about English composition, even though I detested English class and I've been accused of poor sentence construction. Most folks from quantitive backgrounds (Information Systems, Computer Science, Engineering, &c) have very bad punctualtion skills, and, like me, they need a refresher course on the proper use of commas, hyphens and semicolins.

One of Janet’s best friends, Robin Haden, helps-out as my copy editor and we often butt-heads about commas and hyphens. Robin is a brilliant Nuclear Engineer and a manager for North Carolina Nuclear regulatory commission, and she helps-out by constantly lambasting my punctuation!

She says that my generous usage of commas and hyphens are a “Turd in the punchbowl”, ruining my otherwise eloquent and erudite prose:

The original turd in the punchbowl

Me, I like hyphens. They are superb for delineating phrases such as across-the-board and making words like "ass-wipe" easier to read.

The Norm is the rule, silly!

In English grammar, norms become the rule, and “Eats, shoots and leaves” illustrates how overwhelming usage dictates proper punctuation, just like the rules within a database can be reliably inferred from a normative analysis.

For example, I see new terms such as "My Bad" and "Asswipe". I often wonder if ass-wipe should be hyphenated or left whole, as-in asswipe, and what is the proper usage for "My Bad".

A Google search for “asswipe” shows 62,000 hits, while “ass-wipe” shows only 14,800 hits. However “hypersensitivity” and “hyper-sensitivity” are about equal on Google (1,000,000 each), and I prefer the hyphenated version because it is easier for the casual reader.

Googling for Grammar

You can also use Google to understand how brand-new pheases ("My Bad") are used in sentences. Most folks don’t know that you need double double-quotes to find a quoted string on Google, like "my bad". The correct search would be with two-sets of double-quotes, like ""my bad"". A beginner might only use one set of double-quotes “my bad”, and get a very different result set, and not what they wanted:

The magnificent book “Google Hacking for Penetration Testers” is an excellent way to infer proper English grammar. Even though the book is all-about finding computer vulnerabilities with Google, the examples of the advanced searches show how one can determine proper punctuation by observing the norms on the web: