How readers’ comments are edited at VFR

In response to changes I made in his comment in a previous entry, Christopher B. writes from England:


You even changed round my quotation marks and periods/commas from my original:


” … fractured skull”.

You are a very observant and strict man! I know that you know that what I wrote is standard UK usage. But where do you draw the line? You change punctuation and will not abide split infinitives. I hope you are not thinking of change “colour” to “color.” And changing “centre” is likely to enrage people!

LA replies:

Ever since I began editing and posting readers’ comments myself, I have conformed punctuation, particularly commas and periods at the end of quotations, to the American standard, in which periods and commas are placed inside close quotes, rather than outside them, as in the British style. I guess this is the first time you noticed it. I would imagine that when an American magazine publishes a letter from an English reader, it makes his punctuation conform to the American-style punctuation normally followed by that magazine, though I’m not sure of that.

My own rule at VFR with comments from British/Canadian/Australian readers is that I conform their punctuation, including when they use single quotation marks instead of double, as is common in Britain, to the American style, but leave their British-style spelling (e.g., “colour,” “civilisation”) as is. I’ve also added many British spellings to my spellchecker.

Many American readers incorrectly use the British style of quotation, with the period or comma outside the close quote, and I correct their punctuation as well.

However, I do not need to catch every British-style close quote and manually change it. That would be too much work. I edit and prepare comments in Microsoft Word before copying them into the blog editing page. I have a big, multi-part Word macro I developed many years ago that I run on comments and that performs these changes—and many others—automatically. For example, it changes the incorrect (and increasingly common) “US” to the correct “U.S.” It changes “%” to “percent,” “muslim” to “Muslim,” and “third world” to “Third World.” I originally developed the macro to clean up non-American style quotations, then kept expanding it to fix other common problems.

Christopher B. replies:

Thanks. Now I know. And all done automatically!!

LA continues:

For some issues, the macro is semi-automatic rather than automatic. It stops at each instance of “its” and “it’s” and gives me the option to press a key or button to change it or leave as is, or to press escape and bypass that part of the macro. (In fact, I don’t need to use this feature much, because the overwhelming majority of commenters know the correct usage of “its” and “it’s.”) It stops at each instance of a single digit number and gives me the option to change it to a word or leave as is, or to bypass that part of the macro. The rule that I learned in school and still use today is that cardinal numbers one through ten should be written as words, not numbers. But today many readers write “2 victims” or “6 attackers” where they should write “two victims” or “six attackers,” and this is becoming distressingly more common.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at February 09, 2012 09:20 AM | Send

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