Grammar and punctuation involve many rules. As a general rule, The Scribe is no fan of rules. As Thoreau said, “Any fool can make a rule, and every fool will mind it.” Yet, in matters of writing, some rules must be observed because the consequence of ignoring the rule is that the writer dons the jester’s hat and looks the fool.
The Scribe recently reviewed an appeal brief prepared by a leading member of Big Law, the kind of place that would have summarily rejected The Scribe and his humble pedigree. Given the firm’s reputation, it came as a surprise that the brief consistently violated one of the unyielding rules of punctuation: the comma and the period always go within the closing quotation mark.
The Scribe can find some sympathy for the brief’s hapless author because the rule makes no sense. This should be the rule:
If the comma or period is part of what is being quoted, it goes inside the quotation mark.
If it is not part of what is being quoted, it goes outside the quotation mark.
That would be a sensible rule. But it’s not the rule. Instead, the comma and the period always go inside the quotation mark, even when the original quotation does not include the comma or the period.
Some rules may be ignored. This isn’t one of them. Although it is sensible to disagree with the rule, it is not sensible to ignore it—that would be foolish.