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Joined: October 5, 2003  (email not validated)
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The rules differ, generally, in each English-speaking country. And within each English-speaking country, individual publishing houses may go against the flow.

In general, in the US, punctuation goes inside the quotes whether is part of the quoted material or not. The reason for this is purely aesthetic. A full stop (period in the US) outides the quotes seems to dangle forlonely. In general, in the UK, the punctuation goes insides the quotes if it logically part of the quoted material and outside the quotes otherwise. However, the Cambridge University Press in the UK follows the US convention.

Even within the US and the Cambridge University Press, exceptions are often made in books related to computing, where a command that has to be typed in is quoted. You will break your Linux computer if you give the command "rm /etc/passwd". You will not break your Linux computer if you give the command "rm /etc/passwd." Sometimes pragmatism has to override aesthetics...

Brian de Ford October 5, 2003, 6:26pm

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Before the days of typewriters, the convention generally adopted in print was extra space after sentence-ending punctuation. Because the full stop (period to people in the US) has several functions, this helped eliminate ambiguity and therefore improved overall legibility. In a sentence where a full stop could semantically be either the end of a sentence OR serving one of its other purposes, having a visual distinction made the actual usage clearer.

Printers had an assortment of spaces of varying widths, so the convention was not to double the space after sentence-ending punctuation. The simple reason for this was economics: over the course of an entire book, the difference between double the space or one-and-a-half times the space could amount to several extra pages. So enough extra space to be visually distinct but no more than that. The situation is a little more complicated than that because in fine typography inter-word spacing is not constant from line to line.

When typewriters came along, there was only a single-width space. So the convention was adopted that two spaces would follow sentence-ending punctuation. It's not ideal but at least maintains the visual distinction. However, as typing pools becams dumbed down, all sorts of typographic niceties were abandoned.

As for word processors, the pile of poo that comes out of Redmond does whatever it feels like (which is often wrong) whether you type in one, two or a gazillion spaces after sentence-ending punctuation. Back in 1978, Stanford University professor Donald E. Knuth wrote some FREE software that, even back then, handled typographic details like this far better than any version of Word to date.

Brian de Ford October 5, 2003, 6:17pm

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