Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Physician, Heel Thyself

The garrulous and avuncular (not to mention ubiquitous) Dr. Art Hister, Vancouver's medic-in-the-media, has a feature story in the latest edition of People First, the freebie mag distributed by Peoples Drug Mart. The good doctor begins his piece with this roller-coaster of a sentence:

My wife would say that I got really interested in the increasingly important medical issue of preventing falls in the elderly because, as she won't let me forget, "you're no spring chicken, my dear, more like a bruised old capon," (to be fair she's dead on, but I wish she weren't so brutally honest), but the truth is that I've been quite interested in the issue for a long time now, ever since, in fact, my wife and I took one of our annual hiking holidays, which as is too often the case, turned out to be anything but a "holiday" or what my wife calls "fun".
 Now, I have no problem with long sentences when they're artfully constructed and under control (Norman Mailer and David Foster Wallace, to name just two dead men, used to cast enthrallingly epic sentences) but that opener is not just a run-on, it's a runaway freight train. Here's fifty cents, doc--go buy yourself a period.

And speaking of periods, when the sentence finally does roll to a halt, after those Borscht Belt-style "take my wife" digressions, the final punctuation falls outside the quotation marks. Personally, that seems logical to me (and to the British, God love 'em) but the American (and Canadian) convention is to tuck the punctuation inside.