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January 23, 2006


I choose to write like an American. It's not so surprising: my mum is an American, my sister is an American, and my son is an American. So, I'm just some kind of weird Brit stuck in the middle. But then, they all live in the UK, strangely enough; and two of them are British citizens also. I lived in the US for seven-and-a-half years, and that's where I learned to type and drink coffee: to become a writer.

It's not as if I haven't come close to being a US citizen: my mum left the US, to go to Oxford, when she was eighteen years and four months old; when I was born, there was a law in place that defined whether a child born to a US citizen mother, was a US citizen at birth; if the mother was married to a non-citizen, then prior to the birth, she had to have spent five years in the US after the age of fourteen; so I missed that one by about eight months. My sister is a US citizen and it's because she was born out of wedlock; the law is different in that case: the US citizen mother must have spent only one contiguous year in the US, before the age of eighteen.

So I tried again, it took me five years to acquire permanent resident status — to become a green card holder — and then I was on track to apply for citizenship in June, 2007. But then I chose to live in the UK with my wife and son, and I was under a legal obligation to relinquish my green card at the start of 2005; so I got within about two-and-a-half years that time.

Why the heck do I like America so much? Isn't it filled with folks who are loud, overweight, over sixty, wearing checkered trousers and large cameras? Well, it's not really; at least the part I that know best. I love the West Coast; for me, it's the new frontier; it's where it's all happening; you can be who you want, do what you want, and love how you like. It's not for everyone, but it is for me.

Anyroad, back to writing. I recently read Lynne Truss' Eats, Shoots & Leaves and that's when I realized that I am an American writer. It's partly that I use American spelling, but that's mainly because I have my computer set to US English, so I do it to keep the spell checker happy. The thing is: I punctuate like an American. I love the Oxford comma; it's clear, balanced, and complete. That last comma was the Oxford comma; it's not usually used in the UK, and sometimes I don't use it. The more I learn about the rules, the more comfortable I feel about working within them, and bending them, and even breaking them, when I feel that it's appropriate.

Strunk & White's The Elements of Style, though short, classic, and complete, is a bit of a head-grind; I only got through one third of it before placing it back at the bottom of my reading pile. But Eats, Shoots & Leaves is hilarious; I would certainly enjoy reading it again. It gave me so much history, and so many funny stories about punctuation; it helped me to see that no one can really say definitively how things are supposed to be done. There are endless examples of punctuation affecting the meaning of various different texts, from scriptures, to legal documents. Punctuation can be a matter of life or death.

The only part of American punctuation that I choose not to embrace is the extreme quotation "sucking." That was an example of it; the quotation sucked in the period that rightfully belonged to sentence as a whole. And this I am able to do, because I am me.

It would be nice if we could bring back the rhetorical question mark, which first appeared in the 1580s; it was shaped like an ordinary question mark, but mirrored from left-to-right. They stopped using it in the 1600s. What is wrong with people?


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