Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What was the question?


Hello, dearies! My apologies for the screaming yellow headphones; where fashion dictates, necessity overrules. Your Style Maven spent most of the weekend in coffee shops, surrounded by giggling teens and twentysomethings.

It’s not the volume, it’s the inflection. I was bombarded by monologues composed entirely of questions.

“So, I went out with John? And he took me to that new restaurant? And the waiter had, like, this weird eyebrow thing going on? So the whole time we were eating, I was wondering if it would fall in my dinner? You know?”

Yes, lovey, we know. Do you?

Too many question marks, whether written or implied by inflection, can be distracting and confusing. Let us consult the CMOS for guidance, okay?

Used to indicate a direct question, the question mark can also express surprise or editorial doubt. Are you sure you want to wear that? When a direct question appears within another sentence, it is also set off with a question mark. When did sleeves that actually cover the upper arm go out of fashion? she wondered.

An indirect question, according to the CMOS, never takes a question mark. He wondered which sweatshirt bore the least offensive slogan. In the case of single-word questions such as who or how, you have the option of dropping the question mark and using italics. She stared at his shirt and asked herself why. When dealing with a veiled request, you can skip the formalities and go straight for the imperative. Please tell me you’re not going to wear that.

Concerning quotations, the CMOS states, “A question mark should be placed inside quotation marks, parentheses, or brackets only when it is part of the quoted or parenthetical matter.” He asked in innocence, “What’s wrong with it?”

Heavens, I must dash. The activities director has just asked a question. “Mama wants to play Itsy-Bitsy Spider?” Of course I do, sweetie. Have a lovely week, everyone!

 Photos courtesy of stock.xchng


The Style Maven recently abandoned her loft apartment for an 18th-century farmhouse in the Midwest. She uses pages from the slush pile to stuff cracks in the baseboards, and is now accepting applications for the position of Head Barn Cat.
Bookmark and Share

13 comments :

  1. Hahaha. Great post, Audrey! Don't you think?

    ReplyDelete
  2. That "up-talk" is a great characterization tool, though. Hey, I'll volunteer to be barn cat, if I can have my own apartment in the barn, with plumbing and a kitchen. And high-speed internet access. Deal?

    Marian Allen
    Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anyone who trades a loft apartment for an 18th-century house is, like, a glutton for punishment, you know?

    ReplyDelete
  4. The comments are as clever as the post. I always love it when creative minds start playing together. Like, it's really awesome, ya know?

    ReplyDelete
  5. How about when the question is really a comment, like:

    "Are you serious?"

    Is it acceptable to drop the question mark in order to indicate a different tone of voice? As in:

    "Are you serious."

    I think the latter reads differently. Is it grammatically acceptable?


    ReplyDelete
  6. I've noticed indirect questions followed by question marks, and think to myself, didn't I learn different a while back?

    Morgan Mandel
    http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  7. Marian, the job is yours! Okay?

    Christopher and Maryann, you're both, like, totally right, y'know?

    Anonymous, you've posed a very good question. It can be hard to convey tone of voice, even with italics and exclamation points thrown in at will. With the use of "are" as an interrogative, the CMOS suggests rephrasing the statement as an imperative. "You can't be serious." Editors, what say you?

    ReplyDelete
  8. The questioning inflection is actually how quite a number of Australians speak (teen or otherwise) - as highlighted by one of our comedians, Adam Hills. It could be a great characterisation tool, as Marian commented.

    ReplyDelete
  9. This was great, Audrey!

    My editorial take on anonymous's question:

    CMOS does not always trump all in fiction. Punctuation can be used creatively to all sorts of ends—and the example Anonymous puts forth is a valid instance. The period helps the reader hear tone of voice, and is therefore correct.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Morgan, it's entirely possible that you did learn different a while back. The way language has evolved, it's a wonder that any of the rules have remained consistent!

    Elle, I love Australian dialects. They never sound like Valley Girls on speed, as did the otherwise charming young lady from the weekend. ;)

    Kathryn, thank you for weighing in! You're right, the CMOS is not the be-all, end-all of the written word. I like the fact that it says "guide" on the cover, rather than "eleven thousand more commandments" or some such.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Questions marks, exclamation marks, ellipses, dashes — all can be overused. Their effectiveness is often determined by their frequency. Of course, certain structures demand certain punctuation. The writer then must be as selective about structure as he/she is about end punctuation use. Isn't writing fun?

    ReplyDelete
  12. Questions marks, exclamation marks, ellipses, dashes — all can be overused. Their effectiveness is often determined by their frequency. Of course, certain structures demand certain punctuation. The writer then must be as selective about structure as he/she is about end punctuation use. Isn't writing fun?

    ReplyDelete

The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...