The One Time We’ll Allow You To Use Incorrect Punctuation

The One Time We’ll Allow You To Use Incorrect Punctuation
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Mind Your Language is not a tolerant column. Accuracy matters, and we don’t admit many exceptions. So this is notable. This is the only context where we’re prepared to let you deliberately use incorrect punctuation.

Punctuation picture from Shutterstock

We attended a course on how to launch an eBay business, hosted by training provider DDLS, last week. We’ll have a more extensive write-up on that in the future, but this is the relevant point from a MYL perspective: when you’re listing items for sale on eBay and the product name includes punctuation, you should not include it in the headline.

The reason? Most people find stuff to buy by searching rather than browsing, and most people are too bloody stupid to use correct punctuation. They will type the punctuation-free version. If you want to top those search results, you have to use the incorrect rendering.

Part of us hates this. eBay’s search algorithms should have enough grunt to handle both alternatives, and deliberately encouraging stupidity should be a corporation-closing offence. But we aren’t going to argue with the PayPal-abusing masses.

If flogging stuff is your game, go with the dumbest version, not the correct version. But please recognise (at least for yourself) that it’s dumb and wrong. Everyone else might be stupid, and you might sometimes have to pander to that, but don’t fall into the trap of adopting that approach elsewhere. Train yourself to be correct when that’s important. Accuracy matters.

Lifehacker’s Mind Your Language column offers bossy advice on improving your writing.


  • I agree wholeheartedly with this. Whenever possible, in this kind of situation I even try to include alternate incorrect spellings and various descriptions of the item.

    Eg. Motorbike helmet / Motor bikehelmet / Motorcycle helmet / Cycle helmut etc.

  • How do you feel about punctuation and quotation?

    For example, let’s say I want to quote this sentence right here.

    I was always taught the following was correct when ending the sentence with a quote:

    To quote myself from earlier, “I want to quote.”

    I did it like that for years in school. However, since then, However, in the part of the sentence I quoted just then, the full stop is not actually in the part of the text that I am quoting. This causes a tension in me, because I know that what I did above is correct, but because the full stop is not part of the quote, I feel that the full stop ending the sentence should be outside the quotation marks, like so: ‘To quote myself from earlier, “I want to quote”.’.

    And yes that looks strange, but I can’t help but feel that it is technically more correct, as going from inside to outside, I quoted what I wanted to quote (and ended it with a quotation mark), then I ended the sentence I was quoting with a full stop, ended the quote of me quoting with another quotation mark, and then finally ended the sentence that ends that paragraph with a full stop. Anything else feels like when I’m programming and I haven’t matched parentheses or braces correctly.

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