The Punctuation of Einstein’s Wives

socs-badge-2015Challenging, wouldn’t you agree? To begin a story with a word ending in “ing.” See, this is where I disagree with the rule-makers of punctuation. I think that sentence would look better if it had ended with – a word ending in “ing”. Instead of having the period inside the quote. The period isn’t part of the suffix, it signifies the end of the thought and the end would be after the final quote. In any case, none of this was my idea. This post is part of the Stream of Consciousness Saturday series and Linda invited us to play by saying:

“Your Friday prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday is: ‘ing.’  The first word of your post must end in the letters “ing.” Extra points if the final word of the post does too. Enjoy!”

Linda is a good girl, a talented writer and a knower of things grammar and punctuation. She probably didn’t give a second thought to the whole period-quote-position-dilemma like I did.

I struggle with many such dilemmas. My worst punctuation enemy, my nemeses as it were, and the punctuation mark that drives my editor crazy is the comma. I put commas where they don’t belong and I don’t put commas where they should be. My wife hands some of my draft posts back to me and it looks as if we’ve accepted some sort of variant of the conservation of mass and energy laws. Oh, after clicking on my own link (to test it) I noticed that there’s also a conservation of momentum law, too. I guess that would be important to the folks at NASA. That’s where the link goes, NASA, that wasn’t a random thought. Anyway, in our house we obey the conservation of commas law:

Within some problem domain, such as one of my blog posts, the amount of punctuation remains constant and punctuation is neither created nor destroyed, it’s just relocated.”

One comma out, one comma in.

I’m pretty sure that Isaac Newton’s wife corrected his grammar and punctuation too. Oh my, he never married. See, it’s a good thing that I test these links. I thought I could recover by pointing out that his father was also named Isaac and that I meant Isaac’s (the Isaac we remember) mother, but (see I wouldn’t normally put a comma there but my editor will) his parents were not well-educated.

Go ahead, take the cheap shot and say “one doesn’t have to be well-educated to know how to use a comma” because I don’t care. And yes, I added the “because I don’t care” part so I wouldn’t have to put the period inside the quote. I will often go to great lengths to avoid ending a sentence at the end of a quote. That’s how strongly I feel about this issue. In any case, Isaac (the father) Newton died before Isaac the son was born and Isaac the son was sent to live with his grandmother or possibly an uncle, depending on which source you like, so it’s unlikely his mother corrected anything he wrote.

Enfield Dam
The dam is deteriorating but it still diverts water into the upper locks of the Windsor Locks Canal

Lest you think that I am breaking the rules of SoCS, I can assure you that I am not. My stream of consciousness is just being diverted by the ridiculous life of Isaac Newton. I’d have about 200 fewer words if I had picked René Descartes wife to use as an example. Oh for the love! René never married either. And, get this, his mother died when he was an infant and his father sent him to be raised by his grandmother, who knows, maybe an uncle, until he was old enough to be packed off to boarding school. I should have gone with Einstein.

Einstein would have worked nicely. He married twice, probably to help offset the single lives of Newton and Descartes, you know, to stay in compliance with the law of conservation of physicists, mathematicians and their wives. In addition, Einstein’s first wife, Mileva Marić is said to have collaborated with him on some of his famous papers. The article goes on to say:

“…but historians of physics who have studied the issue find no evidence that she made any substantive contributions.”

Still, I’m guessing that she moved a few commas from point A to point B and probably cleaned up his grammar a bit. Actually, Mileva was also a physicist. I could have used her, but her life seems as chaotic as Newton’s and Descartes’, with movement and enrollment in boarding schools. In fact, she was the only woman in the school that Albert Einstein attended (in case you were wondering how they met). She and Albert didn’t get along all that well and didn’t stay married long. They had a daughter before they were married, and two sons after they were married, but the history surrounding those children is confusing and sad.

Where was I?

More importantly, since I now sense the opportunity to snag those coveted extra points, where was I going?

61 thoughts on “The Punctuation of Einstein’s Wives

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  1. Ha, well, you can imagine how a professional editor like myself feels about a well-placed comma! I love the Internet as much as the next guy, but man ALIVE, has it allowed errors to proliferate. The misspellings, the run-on sentences, the misplaced punctuation … yeah, don’t get me started. But I’m glad this topic got YOU started. Good post, Dan!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Going, Into a parallel universe no doubt. The one with Einstein’s law of spousal communication, honey comma here for a moment. And help me with my punctuation, i have run out of neutrinos, so i am using plain old comments to control the flow of my sentences. A universe where Yoda is the final grammatical authoritarian. A universe of short green sentences, where commas are excessive interruptions. be punctuated or be not punctuated. or it could be this i am forcing…


  3. All of this is more accurately called the mustache theory. Back in the day, a friend of mine decided on a whim to shave off his mustache, moments later, another friend returned from a three week trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area – with a mustache. Physicists can talk about the conservation of matter all they want but it really comes down to mustaches.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So the very first thing I did was go to the end of your post to see if your last word ended in “ing” and it did! And see, you’re not supposed to start a sentence with ‘so’ and ‘and.’ But it does drive me nuts when people put the period outside the quotes.
    I have to tell you that I do love the titles of your posts–always!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Brilliant Dan. And, oh my yes! I struggle with the whole period inside or outside of the quotation marks all the time. I do what feels right according to all the rules I learned in Super Advanced, Drill us Till Our Brains Ached and Fingers Were Numb English Composition class of Senior Year. I proudly made an A in that class. That teacher was a beast too. Most people feared passing her in the hall. I think I even saw a few Catholics cross themselves……
    Congratulations on the extra points. Is that your apple I see on the corner of the desk? ;)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If the apple helps me get past the editor, I’ll buy a bushel full. She is making me look better than I would on my own. I had that same English teacher in 11th grade, but I didn’t get an A. Shocking, I know.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your stream of consciousness. As a former High School English teacher and punctuation pedant, I was amused by your dilemma and rant regarding commas and the use of periods (or full stops as I know them) when also using quotation marks. It’s a discussion I’ve had with many a student and with my husband over the years. I also enjoyed all your segues regarding scientists, their mothers and wives. Your brain apparently leaps around like mine does. My brain operates in the same way that I use Wikipedia: looking one thing up and then clicking a link in that article to go and read another and so on until it transpires I’ve been down the rabbit hole of Wikipedia for much longer than intended. Thanks for the fun read.


    1. Thanks! My brain tends to wander on its own, I really didn’t need the help from Wikipedia on this one. I was actually going to write about some challenging projects I have going on but I never got there. I’ve been on the receiving end of those conversations. The ones where the student refuses to obey the rules. Sorry.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh no I’m totally with you on the workings of the brain. I just wasn’t clear. My mind wanders in the same way that I wander around Wikipedia is what I meant. My husband and kids are often stumped by the segues I make in my mind but the connections and flow make sense to me.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I blog like I talk, and either people get it or they don’t. Professionally, I write well, but then, I have been educated to do so. I don’t know why people such as yourself get frustrated about putting the punctuation inside the quotes, but people like me are happy to read y’all anyway.
    I’m The Mister’s editor, which is not, I repeat, not a good time. If he wasn’t married to his editor, he couldn’t afford one, cause quite frankly, he argues too @%#(ing much, making him a difficult client. He loves dangling modifiers, odd prepositional phrases with extra prepositions, and comma splices. I think somewhere along the way he fell in love with purple prose and seeks to emulate it.
    He’s a fabulous orator, but something gets lost on the way from his brain to his hands, which is odd, because he has a very fine brain and very fine hands.
    Descartes is boring.
    Windmills are awesome.
    I like this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I don’t often argue with my editor. That wouldn’t end well for me. I blog like I talk too, but there’s no punctuation mark for “hands moving” or “eyes rolling” or other body language. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t recognize a dangling modifier if I ran over it with my car. Maybe it’s one of those things that come back with “ugh, no, rewrite this whole sentence” written on it.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I am so with you on the illogical period placement when it comes to quotation marks. I learned that in the US it goes inside, English outside. I prefer the outside, but as a US person, I force myself to put it on the inside. I don’t even know it this is correct! But there you go.

    Commas drive me batty, and the lack of consensus doesn’t help a bit. I’m adopting your conservation of commas law: “The amount of punctuation remains constant and punctuation is neither created nor destroyed, it’s just relocated.” :-)

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I think I have many rules of punctuation memorized, I get upset with newspapers which print mistakes that are huge, while I also get upset with journalists who don’t get the use of “I” and “me.” Come on, now! Oh well, I am an over-user of commas, where I think a pause must happen, instead of starting a new sentence. Did you see how I did this, Dan? Not good, probably the work of a “C” student instead of my usual high ability to focus and do better. Having a mother who taught both Spanish and English, I liked going into Language Arts in college. I also took tons of what was available in high school of mini-courses in literature. I gave “A’s”and “B’s” to almost all my students, especially if they tried and did original writing. :) I only had to give a sprinkling of “C’s” due to Spelling, a dreadful subject that should have been dropped in grade school. Middle schoolers don’t take it now, thank goodness. This is hard to believe but I think everyone either “can spell” or “can’t.” This is not easy to understand why it is such a big deal since it is something one of my 3 children just could not grasp. The rules made no sense, phonics didn’t help either. Lol! You are a great blog writer. I am so glad you have an editor, one you love, too.(You can “pay” her in kisses or home improvement projects, Dan!)
    I typed my Dad’s book, who was a NASA scientist, inventor and nuclear engineer, while I was 15 years old because my Mom didn’t want to do it. She and Dad would go round and round while he was in “rough draft” mode. He was not a speller or someone who could put together a paper easily. He managed to do immense projects, including designing a nuclear non-polluting car engine that all of the major motor companies didn’t want to attempt to put their money towards or pay NASA for the patent. But he couldn’t spell or punctuate.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Robin. I can’t spell. When WordPress dropped the spellcheck feature in the iOS App, I had to wait until I got home to comment. I also use commas when I want the reader to pause. It’s my writing, I want to control the pace. Like a conductor. I would so drive a nuclear car. That would be amazing. Thanks again.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I had to scroll past (is it passed or past?) your pics because I am afraid of height and got whiplash on the last roller coaster I rode (is it road or rode?) Oh, your post is making me question everything I write. I have to go now before I explode (that one I’m sure about!)


    Liked by 3 people

    1. I always question past v passed. Roller coasters, especially wooden ones can be tough on your neck. I never did get to my point. Oh well. If you enjoyed it, I’m fine. Thanks for the comment Elizabeth.


  11. Funny post. I loved it. A great way to end my Sunday. Back here in India, people use grammar as per their convenience and it really turns out to be hilarious. A lot of people here think in the regional language and write it in English. I just enjoy it quietly.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I totally 100% think the period goes outside the quote mark unless the entire sentence is a quote in which case it goes inside. I also think commas are overused, underused and misused. Often a semi-colon is required instead of a comma. Or a pair of dashes 😊 I’m reading a book right now that I would enjoy far more – because the plot is engaging – if the author had not used way too many commas, and used them inconsistently! It’s like she indiscriminently over-shook the pepper!

    But hey! I digress because I really wanted to ask about …

    Liked by 1 person

      1. No no that’s not what I said !!! The period goes INSIDE the quote when it’s the whole sentence and OUTSIDE the quote when the quote is the partial end of a sentence.

        “He didn’t listen.”

        And i agree with the statement, “he never gets it right”.

        Got it?


        *Sound of editor and me clinking wine glasses in the background*


        1. That’s what I thought, but then my grammar professor told me there are no exceptions – the period and the comma ALWAYS go inside the quotes. A question mark and an exclamation mark can get out though. So for example, you can say:
          And I agree with the statement, “he never gets it right”!
          Your writing just has to sound angry, that’s all. :P hehe

          Liked by 1 person

  13. Dan, Much enjoyed this article. Yes, if we focus too much on proper punctuation — especially as we write a first draft — then creativity loses. Still, the illogical comma always inside the quotation mark rule, though arbitrary, comes from the days of lead type slugs on printing presses. Printers found that commas placed outside the quotation mark tended to fall off the set. The quotation mark held the comma in place. Not logical, but practical. Don’t know why the British had better luck with logic.


  14. Haha! I think you get all the points for this one. :D You’re wrong on one thing though – I DO stress over putting the punctuation inside the quotes! And like you, I avoid ending a sentence with a quote whenever I can, just for this reason. Unfortunately I possess not a spouse to help me with my commas; consequently, they’re all over the damned place. :P

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Linda. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one avoiding those end-of-sentence quotes. I’d lend you my editor, but she’s over-worked – I give a handful three times a week :)


  15. I love the Comma law. Very original.
    “Within some problem domain, such as one of my blog posts, the amount of punctuation remains constant and punctuation is neither created nor destroyed, it’s just relocated.”
    Ha! Cool.

    Liked by 1 person

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