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Does use-mention distinction sometimes warrant breaking the following capitalization and punctuation conventions?

  • American convention recommends placing punctuation within quote marks.
  • Sentences should begin with a capital letter.

What is the proper way to deal with the quoted parts in the following sentence? I would usually write:

There’s a typo in the third paragraph. “through” should be “thorough”.

But might these other options be the right way?

  1. There’s a typo in the third paragraph. “Through” should be “thorough”.
  2. There’s a typo in the third paragraph. “through” should be “thorough.”
  3. There’s a typo in the third paragraph. “Through” should be “thorough.”

The above could be fixed by placing the words in italics.

If the typo included a punctuation error, I would be inclined to write:

There's a typo in the third paragraph. "I waited," should be "I waited.".

Using two periods around the end quote seems wrong, but without them, maybe an American would interpret it as a suggestion to just remove the comma in "I waited,".

These questions seemed related, but not quite what I was looking for:

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Is it me, or is option “1” identical to option “3”? –  Mr Lister Oct 2 '12 at 18:49
    
@MrLister, They were the same; in editing some unrelated items (spelling and punctuation errors in the post) I moved the period inside the closing quote marks for option 3. Now the cases are 0:«“t”–“t”.», 1:«“T”–“t”.», 2:«“t”–“t.”», 3:«“T”–“t.”» –  jwpat7 Oct 2 '12 at 19:20
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2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Just use a colon instead:

There's a typo in the third paragraph: "through" should be "thorough".

And never put non-literal punctuation in literal strings. That's screwed up, and screws things up.

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+1. Marred only by the lack of an Oxford comma, and the occasion to use one. –  Robusto Oct 2 '12 at 18:18
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Written English style can accommodate tokens that are not words, usually as nouns, sometimes as verbs (the = equal sign, for example), occasionally as other parts of speech. However, for whatever reason, written English style does not like to begin sentences with such nonword tokens. For example, there is no trouble here:

In the mathematical expression dy/dx, which represents a derivative or rate of change, x is an independent variable.

Shuffle the prepositional phrase to the end, though, and a problem emerges. This is wrong:

x is the independent variable in the mathematical expression dy/dx.

This too is wrong:

X is the independent variable in the mathematical expression dy/dx.

Obviously, there exist various ways to reorder or recast the sentence to evade the problem, such as,

It is the variable x that is the independent one in the mathematical expression dy/dx.

However, what if one does not wish to evade the problem? What if one prefers to tackle the problem, head-on?

About all one can do in such a case is to prefix an otherwise useless article to the token as particle, merely for printed style's sake:

The x is the independent variable in the mathematical expression dy/dx.

Watch out then for parallelism of construction:

The x is a variable in the mathematical expression dy/dx, as is the y.

When needed, one can precede almost any nonword token with a the, a or an to begin a sentence. In your example, then,

The “through” should be “thorough”.

(Observe incidentally the odd placement of the period, outside the quotes. The reason for this is that you are giving instructions for corrections, as @tchrist notes. If you place the period where Americans otherwise would, within the quotes, you can confuse the copy editor or typesetter.)

Observe that none of the above is necessary merely to begin a clause, nor to follow a colon or semicolon, but only to begin a sentence.

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No, you don't understand. You cannot do what you are doing when you are giving instructions for corrections. I have thousands of pages of published text, and have copyedited a dozen times that amount. You cannot use American-style illogical quoting when giving precise update instructions, or you will screw it up royally. I speak from experience. Stop doing that. –  tchrist Oct 2 '12 at 20:17
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@tchrist: Answer edited as suggested. –  thb Oct 2 '12 at 20:29
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@tchrist: Only if the punctuation mark would be a serious option: in most cases, it won't, and so the American version will be clear enough to the editor. –  Cerberus Oct 2 '12 at 20:32
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@cerberus: (as someone who sets type) when dealing with corrections I do not want ambiguity and I do not want to decide what to do. "Serious Option" is a judgement call, and typesetters should be making them as little as possible. So tchrist is correct: in the context of things where string literals exist (such as copy editing and programming), one does not insert extra information into the data. –  horatio Oct 2 '12 at 21:09
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@horatio: Um if there is real ambiguity, then of course you should make sure what you're doing is crystal clear. But in most cases, which excludes citing computer code, of course, I contend that there is no ambiguity, as in an ordinary news article where the full stop would be impossible in the given sentence. –  Cerberus Oct 2 '12 at 21:41
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