Punctuating Words as Words

We recently finished up some definition essays in my college level courses. A question that kept coming up was “How do I punctuate words that refer to themselves?”

Do I use quotation marks or italics? Which of the following is correct?

“Humblebrag” is now in the dictionary.

Humblebrag is now in the dictionary.

There’s some debate about which is best, but ultimately it comes down to which style manual you are following. Since we are using MLA style, we follow their rules and use italics.

The Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue offered this summation:

Do not use quotation marks for words used as words themselves. In this case, you should use italics.

EX: The English word nuance comes from a Middle French word meaning “shades of color.”

Bad Grammar Can Effect “Hoo” You Date

Comedian Aziz Anzari’s book “Modern Romance” is equal parts scientific research, anecdotal evidence, and stand up comedy. This book isn’t recommended for teens as it deals with mature themes and uses mature language. It reads like an R-rated Freakonomics all about dating in the modern age.

I found the book interesting because it dealt extensively with how people communicate effectively…and not-so-effectively in their romantic relationships. You might be surprised to learn that sloppy communication skills reflected poorly on potential suitors, and for many folks it was a deal breaker.  Anzari relates:

“In any interviews we did, whenever bad grammar or spelling popped up, it was an immediate and major turnoff. Women seemed to view it as a clear indicator that a dude was a bozo. Let’s say you are a handsome, charming stud who really made a great first impression. If your first text is ‘Hey we shud hang out sumtimez,’ you may just destroy any goodwill you have built up.

“On our subreddit we were told a story about a man who was dating a spectacular woman but eventually broke up with her. He said it went downhill once he texted her asking if she had heard about a party at a mutual friend’s house. Her response was ‘Hoo?’ Not ‘Who,’ but ‘Hoo.’ He kept trying to force the word ‘who’ into conversation to make sure this beautiful woman could spell a simple three-letter word. Every time, she spelled it ‘hoo.’ He said it ruined everything. (NOTE: We did confirm that this was a woman and not an owl.)”

Missing Oxford Comma Costs Company $10 Million

Delivery drivers for Oakhurst Dairy won their suit against the Portland milk and cream company, after a U.S. court of appeals found that the wording of Maine’s overtime rules were written ambiguously. Per state law, the following activities are not eligible for overtime pay:

The canning, processing, preserving,
freezing, drying, marketing, storing,
packing for shipment or distribution of:

(1) Agricultural produce;
(2) Meat and fish products; and
(3) Perishable foods.

Oakhurst argued that “distribution of” was separate from “packing for shipment,” which would allow the company to claim exemption from paying its delivery drivers over time. In trying to prove lawmakers’ intent, Oakhurst even pointed to Maine’s legislative style guide, which advises against using the Oxford comma.

“For want of a comma, we have this case,” U.S. appeals judge David J. Barron wrote.

The appeals court ruled in favor of the five delivery drivers Monday, citing the “remedial purpose” of the state’s overtime laws as reason to interpret them liberally. So rejoice, grammar nerds, and know that the law is on your side.

via BostonMagazine.com

FOLLOW UP: The Boston Globe reports that the settlement will cost the company $10 million.

Orwell’s classic dystopian novel about a man who basically creates “alternative facts” for a living, tops the Amazon.com top sellers list. 1984 was published 35 years before the year 1984. Now, nearly 35 years after the year 1984, the book seems more relevant than ever. If you’ve never read it, or if it’s been a while, it is worth a second look.

Read more here:

US News & World Report

The New Yorker


The Fragility of the Modern College Student

In her article “The Educational Power of Discomfort,” Irina Popescu talks about the challenges presented by student “fragility”:

“I mean the fragility I witness when a student misses an assignment because he simply forgot to check the syllabus, or when a student speaking aloud in class for the first time starts shaking, or when a student who is handed back an incomplete paper with a C on it immediately tears up. I am talking about the fragility that follows their separation from the structured patterns of high school and middle school, as they are thrown into a world where the future is unknown. There are no more good-job-dinosaur-with-a-thumb-up stickers for simply getting a task done in college. That lack of consistent positive reinforcement often discourages and upsets them, especially in a writing class where so much depends on the transcription of our own personal visions and interpretations.”

Her answer to this problem  is that “[w]e must make it clear to our students that mistakes and failure are a part of learning.” She writes, “To help my students with this, one of the first things I do every semester is make them understand that a bad grade is just that, a bad grade, and that it should push them to do better the next time. Often the bad grade stems from a lack of motivation, energy, and time. We must make it clear to our students that mistakes and failure are a part of learning.”

This may be easier said than done in a climate of grade-inflation and student entitlement, but for those of us teaching–especially in the writing classroom–Popescu’s article reminds us that if we want to be successful, we have to try to make our students understand that growth is more important than grades.

Changes Are Coming to MLA, and They’re Huge!

First of all, if you just figured out MLA, don’t panic. Most of the changes in the eighth edition look to be changes for the better. That is to say, they make documentation more straightforward.

Most significantly, the source type is no longer considered. That’s right, you no longer have to worry about whether a source is a newspaper or a magazine or a travel brochure before you can determine how to cite it. All sources now follow the same basic guidelines for works cited entries:

  1. Author
  2. Title of Source
  3. Title of Container
  4. Other contributers
  5. Version
  6. Number
  7. Publisher
  8. Publication date
  9. Publication location

Read more about how this will work and see other significant changes here.


“Making an Outline” [Video]

This video does a pretty good job explaining how to outline for an essay. Keep in mind that you want to keep your ideas as short as possible so they are easier to see at a glance and that you don’t need to use roman numerals if you don’t want to. Dots and dashes or arrows and stars work just as well. The important thing is making each level distinct. Also, it is a good idea to write your complete thesis statement at the top of your outline rather than just the topic.

Periods & Commas Need Our Protection


It’s nice when the rules of the language are simple to understand, and when there’s an interesting backstory that’s even better.

In the United States, periods and commas go inside quotation marks regardless of logic….There are peculiar typographical reasons why the period and comma go inside the quotation mark in the United States. The following explanation comes from the “Frequently Asked Questions” file of alt.english.usage: “In the days when printing used raised bits of metal, [periods and commas] were the most delicate, and were in danger of damage (the face of the piece of type might break off from the body, or be bent or dented from above) if they had [quotation marks] on one side and a blank space on the other. Hence the convention arose of always [putting commas and periods inside the closing quotes] regardless of logic.” – via Grammar Guide

Here’s a couple of examples:


John said, “Let’s go down and wade in the brook.”

“I’m afraid I might fall in,” Loretta replied. “But I did say ‘I love to swim.'”


John said, “Let’s go down and wade in the brook”.

“I’m afraid I might fall in”, Loretta replied.”But I did say ‘I love to swim’.”