Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Joy of Anagrams

Mixing It Up for Pleasure’s Sake

For a while now I’ve been obsessed with anagrams. Totally obsessed. Bloody tasteless, you say? A less bloody test, I say. Everyone should “Self Anagram,” that is, rearrange the letters of your name to spell something else. I particularly like my Self Anagram I ZAP A BULLOCK. It was timely when I wrote this post, seeing how Sandra Bullock was nominated for an Oscar for her role as an astronaut drifting through space. She didn’t win, ergo the befitting ZAP. Although the I is inappropriate because I voted for La Bullock in a friend’s Oscar poll. (I thought she would win, even though I didn’t see Gravity, but, come on, it’s Sandra Bullock. Isn’t she at the height of her career?)

My favorite anagrams, though, limit themselves to one word and, as a special bonus, are antigrams, which are anagrams that are opposite in meaning. One of the most obvious, or well-known, antigrams is united / untied. Wonderfully straightforward in its contrariness. Here are a few more, including our fine example. You may have to stretch your imagination just a tad to discover their oppositional nature:

united / untied
pit / tip
abet / beat
rousing / souring
restful / fluster
prenatal / parental
striking / skirting
conversation / conservation
morose / romeos (unless of course Romeo is behaving like a Werther)
compliant / complaint

I must confess here that one of my favorite antigrams challenges my one-word favoritism and measures in at two words: apart / a part. Lovely.

I also get psyched for any anagrams that have a relationship other than oppositional to one another. Here are a few examples:

lips / lisp (both oral)
sorted / stored (both for the fastidious)
infarction / infraction (both are violations)
melon / lemon (both fruit)
garnet / argent (both colors)
nudity / untidy (prudes may see them as inhabiting the same world)
martial / marital (ha ha)

Sorry for the last one. It’s a bit 1950s I Love Lucy, but I love I Love Lucy. So it stays.

There is one anagram, though, that hovers somewhere in between these worlds. Scared / sacred. You either find these two words toeing the same party line or at opposite ends of a tug of war, most likely depending on how you define and view things that are “sacred.”

My very favorite anagram of all time, though, comes back to my name. My middle name. I seldom use it, but it’s Domenic. As a child, I knew the name was important: I was named after my mother’s father, Dominic. As you can see, though, the spellings differ. This is why I never knew how to spell it growing up. So after some prodding, my mother fessed that she spelled my name wrong on my birth certificate and that the i became an e. The problem was, I could never remember which i, so sometimes I spelled it as Dominec or, in a dyslexic fugue, Demonic, which serendipitously turns out to be the diametric opposite of Domenic, which means “born on Sunday, the Lord’s day.” I hit the jackpot with that one.

Two of my favorite anagram-finding Web sites have features to enhance your anagram-search fun, such as limiting the number of words per anagram or forcing the generator to use a certain word. I recommend using both sites.


Andy’s Anagram Solver

Do you have any favorite anagrams, self anagrams, or antigrams? If so, share them here.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Closing Quotation Mark Dilemma

Three simple rules to keep your punctuation marks in their right place

My biggest punctuation pet peeve involves quotation marks. I get very self-righteous and snobby whenever I espy misplaced ones. If you don’t know the first thing about using quotation marks in relation to other punctuation in standard American English, dear reader, read on. These are the three simple rules you must follow.

1. Periods and commas always precede closing, or end, quotation marks.

Mary said, “I truly, madly, knee-deeply love you, Joe.” 
Desperately seeking a “bromance,” Jason hung out at the gym hoping that another dude would ask him to join in a game of twenty-one.
2. Semicolons and colons always follow closing quotation marks.

She is my sworn “frenemy”; I love her like a sister, but she is constantly throwing shade every time someone tells me I look good.
These movies were featured in Jean’s article “The Three Scariest Movies of All Time”: “The Exorcist,” “Alien,” and “Mommie Dearest.”
3. Question marks and exclamation points precede closing quotation marks only when they are part of the quoted material.

Thomas enthused nonstop about Barbara Billingsley’s scene-stealing performance as the Jive Lady in “Airplane!” 
Did you just accuse me of “cockblocking”?
❦   ❦   ❦

It really is that simple, dear reader.

I had a Harvard-educated lawyer tell me that I was wrong, that the comma did not fall before the end quotation mark. I was proofreading his such-and-such agreement and the situation involved a defined term, something like
This agreement (the “Agreement”, and together with . . . .
So, like a good proofreader, I transposed the comma and closing quotation mark that he had wrong. But in his mind, I was wrong. Self-righteously (why do grammar arguments evince so much arrogance?) he claimed that the comma cannot precede the end quotation mark because then, whenever the term Agreement appeared throughout, it would have to carry a comma at the end, like this: Agreement,. I looked at him incredulously. I said, “It is understood that the comma will not have to be attached to the defined term.” I tried to convey the sense that no one in his right mind would expect that to happen. It was less than a week after 9/11 when this conversation occurred, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt. All of our minds in New York city were addled then. A collective jumble of criss-crossed circuits and untethered emotion.

I think people sometimes get confused because there exists a British style of quotation mark placement. The rules are the same for American style regarding placement next to question marks, exclamation points, semicolons, and colons, but differ for commas and periods only when the quotation is just a fragment. In these instances, commas and periods follow closing quotation marks. For example:
Hermione looked high and low for her “soul mate”, but, alas, could not find her.
This is called logical quotation. Many Americans insist that they are being logical when they place the comma after the closing quotation mark when it comes to a fragment. If the British do it, why don’t we?

For me, though, placing the closing quotation mark after a comma or period seems logical. I like to tell people that the eye sees the period or comma first and this sends a little trigger to the brain, informing it that the sentence is either ending (if you see a period) or there is more to come (if you see a comma). Your eye then sees that the quotation has ended. To me, this seems “cleaner,” or better for my brain, knowing that this sentence is going to continue before knowing that the quotation ends. Even if it is for a split second. My explanation may seem a little poetically justified. But then again, human beings have the uncanny ability to justify almost anything.

❦   ❦   ❦

A few years go by. I notice that Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged online entry for metonymy contains misplaced quotation marks. What? I can’t believe my eyes. My brain is confused. Anger wells up, my jaw in a furious clench. So, I let M-W know, in terse sanctimony, how my esteem for this hallowed institution has fallen precipitously towards the brink of no return. Okay, I exaggerate a bit, but you can infer my “haha, I got you,” superciliousness.
Your Unabridged dictionary’s definition of “metonymy” has punctuation errors. Commas always occur before the end quotation marks, never after.
For those of you unfamiliar (and presumably myself when I sent the missive), the definition of metonymy on Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged site reads verbatim:
a figure of speech that consists in using the name of one thing for that of something else with which it is associated (as in “spent the evening reading Shakespeare”, “lands belonging to the crown”, “demanded action by City Hall”, “ogling the heavily mascaraed skirt at the next table”)
Two weeks later, a reply came from the Halls of Academe:
Thanks for writing. 
Although most people in the U.S. now place all commas and periods that follow quoted material inside the quotation marks, this was not always the case. For a long time, many writers placed such punctuation marks within quotations only if they were part of the material being quoted. This was the case when our unabridged dictionary, Webster’s Third New International, was being written. We’ve since changed our policy, and when a new edition of our unabridged dictionary is released, commas in definitions like the one at the entry for “metonymy” will be inside the quotation marks. 
Thanks again for taking the time to write. 
Emily Brewster

Well, that explains my coming across misplaced closing quotation marks in old American books and magazine articles. I’m surprised, though, that I even got a response after my snidely gibed e-mail. But tickled, really. In true geek fashion, I will always love learning, especially the history and rules of grammar.

That letter, though, was almost ten years ago. Oh, Emily. When’s the fourth edition due? My brain won’t be able to relax knowing that the metonymy entry still has misplaced quotation marks.

❦   ❦   ❦

Here are some other helpful tips, guaranteed to relax your taxed brain, when confronted with punctuation confusion:

You do not have to double-up on punctuation. In other words, using the examples above, you wouldn’t add a period after the exclamation point in the “Airplane!” sentence. It would look silly: . . . Jive Lady in “Airplane!.” This holds true for commas as well.

When you read the newspaper, say the New York Times, note the punctuation. Really look at it and see how these rules are applied in print. Do the same when reading a novel, or a magazine article. When you acknowledge the punctuation, it sticks.