Recently in the Punctuation Category

A slash by any other name

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A couple of days ago, I wrote about abbreviations containing slashes; researching that reminded me to mention that there are a couple of different names for slashes, and a couple of different punctuation marks that look like slashes.

diagonal
Apparently a synonym for “slash”; don't think I've ever seen this usage, but a couple of sources (including my dictionary) refer to it.
oblique
Same as “diagonal” in that I don't think I've seen it used before, but MW3 says it's a synonym for “slash.”
scratch comma
I'm certain I've never seen this term before. MW3 defines it as “a diagonal formerly used as a comma,” which is rather, um, oblique. An older dictionary gives a clearer description: “a diagonal stroke used by some early printers in place of the comma.”
separatrix
I've never encountered this word before, but I love it. MW3 says this term can be used as a synonym for “slash,” but can also specifically mean “a diagonal or upright stroke used to separate one marginal proof correction from another in the same line.” I shall endeavor to use this word as often as possible from now on.
slak
The Jargon File says that this is a rare term for a slash. I don't know the context for that; haven't seen it. The same page also notes that in the extremely silly computer language INTERCAL, a slash is called a “slat.”
slant line
Apparently specifically used in phonetics to refer to the slashes before and after a phonemic transcription. Apparently “slant” is also used as a synonym for “slash” in some contexts (according to MW3), but I don't think I've seen that. And one web page says the slash is “often called the 'slant bar' by computer users,” but I don't think I've seen that either.
slash
Presumably so named for its resemblance to a cut, “made by or as if by slashing” (as my dictionary puts it). The etymology of the verb “slash” is unknown; OED says perhaps related to “OF. esclachier to break.”
solidus
Originally an ancient Roman coin. According to Wikipedia, in the UK, pounds, shillings, and pence were abbreviated using names of Roman coins: libra (abbreviated £), solidus (abbreviated s), and denarius (abbreviated d). The s used for shillings became elongated and evolved into a slashlike mark. The term “solidus” now refers specifically (at least in mathematics) to a less-vertical slashlike character that's used between numerator and denominator in a fraction, although it's quite common to just use a slash for this purpose. Unicode distinguishes between a “solidus” (/) (which in that context is an exact synonym for “slash”), a “fraction slash” (⁄) (which is called a solidus in math), and a “division slash” (∕), which in some typefaces may be even less vertical than the fraction slash. (See also Writing Fractions in HTML.)
stroke
I gather this is used in the UK when speaking a string of letters and/or numbers that includes a slash, as in “27 B stroke 6”—although I gather that “stroke” in this context is also used to refer to a hyphen.
virgule
From Latin virgula, meaning small stripe. Originally specifically referred to a small stroke that was an early form of comma in medieval manuscripts. In modern typography, this is the standard name for what's more casually known as a slash; in most modern contexts, this term is a synonym for “slash.”
whack
Computer slang for a slash, according to Computer Hope's jargon pages.

I suppose it's also worth noting that a huge number of people are confused about the term “backslash,” no thanks to Microsoft. In MS-DOS and its successor operating systems, the backslash (\), a mirror-reversed slash, is used to separate components of a path in the filesystem—that is, to separate names of parent and child directories, and to separate a filename from the name of the directory that contains it. However, in almost all other computer contexts—and especially in URLs—the character used for that separation is a forward slash, also known simply as a slash. (Before Microsoft popularized the backslash, there was no need to say “forward” slash.)

But because many people's first exposure to computers has been a Microsoft operating system, a lot of people don't understand that the backslash is unique to MS. So I hear a lot of people try to say URLs aloud by saying things like “h t t p colon backslash backslash. . . .” And sometimes they try to type URLs that way too.

Suffice it to say: unless you're talking about the location of a file on a Windows disk, don't use backslashes.

One other note, unrelated to backslashes: If I wanted to make a comprehensive list of the ways that “/” is pronounced, I suppose I would have to include things like “over” and “out of” (in fractions and test scores, as in ”257/512” or “76/100”) and “per” and “an” (in phrases like “65 miles/hour”). But I'm focusing in this entry on names for the punctuation mark (and related marks). I'm not sure that the distinction I'm making here is as solid as it sounds, but it'll do.

Commas, multiple

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The following sentence contains a comma after every word:

Ahead, Edmund, inevitably, lurked.

I'm not saying it's a good sentence, but I believe it to be grammatical.

So what's the longest sentence you can construct that has a comma after every word, while maintaining grammatical accuracy?

More generally, how about the longest sentence in which every word has some punctuation mark after it, even if they aren't all the same mark?

Comma, importance of

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Back in March, I came across this AP headline:

More than math, reading important

I read it as saying that reading was more important than math, but the article is about attempts to "broaden the focus [of education] beyond math and reading." So I started to write an entry here to make fun of the headline for having nothing to do with the article body.

And then I realized that I'd misread the headline.

It's using the common headline technique of replacing an "and" with a comma. So it really meant that more topics than math and reading are important.

So it's a perfectly reasonable headline for the article, except for the ease of misreading it. I would still say it's a bad headline, but on very different grounds than my original impression.

Food and serial commas

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From an article about rescued Chinese miners:

But today rescuers hailed a miracle as they pulled more than 100 miners to safety after eight days trapped underground. They had survived by strapping themselves to the walls, eating sawdust and sheer tenacity.

Mmmm, tenacity.

(Thanks to Arthur E for the pointer.)

Why God gave us the serial comma

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As reported by Womzilla, via Supergee on the cranky_editors LiveJournal community:

Several groups trying to re-ignite New England's faith are theologically conservative, such as the Southern Baptists [and others]. They say a reason for the region's hollowed-out faith is a pervasive theology that departs from traditional Biblical interpretation on issues such as the divinity of Jesus, the exclusivity of Christianity as a path to salvation and homosexuality.

—from an AP article, "Evangelists target spiritually cold New England," as published at Yahoo! News

Mother's Day or Mothers' Day?

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Every year around this time, a question of the utmost importance occurs to me.

I refer, of course, to the question of whether this holiday honors mothers or a mother—that is, whether the apostrophe should go before or after the S.

Fortunately, since the advent of Wikipedia, it's easy to answer that question definitively. The Wikipedia article on the topic quotes a Vancouver Sun article from 2008. The article is about Anna Jarvis, who trademarked the term "Mother's Day" in 1912; it notes:

She was specific about the location of the apostrophe; it was to be a singular possessive, for each family to honour their mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers in the world.

Of course, one could go against Jarvis's wishes—it's not like we pay much attention to her other intentions for the day:

"I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit," Jarvis complained, dismissing greeting cards as "a poor excuse for the letter you are too lazy to write."

But other sources also suggest the singular apostrophe placement. For example, from Wikipedia again:

[The singular apostrophe has also been] used by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in the law making official the holiday in the U.S., by the U.S. Congress on bills, and by other U.S. presidents on their declarations.

And MW11 supports that punctuation as well. So I'll go along with it.

(Yes, I could have just checked the dictionary in the first place. But this route was more interesting. I had no idea the term was trademarked, for example.)

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