It’s odd, the things that stick with you. I walked past a poster the other day about an event going on in Mississippi, and my head immediately went to the elementary school chant that still informs the way I spell this state. “Em-eye-ess-ess-eye-ess-ess-eye-peepeeinmypantsEYE!”
THESE ARE THE JOKES. I still have the cadence down in my head, which is a fast but military-perfect rhythm right up until you get to the p’s, at which point you say “in my pants” as quickly as possible, like if you fit it into the half-second beat of silence that should exist between the last two letters of the word you’ll slip it past the censors. I also still have the spelling of the word “aardvark” drilled into my brain, but I can absolutely blame Arthur for that:
That one’s for you, Boonder.
But this; good heavens this:
This one’s for all three of the von Schultz family singers when we were children, because we had this ear worm of a refrain burrowing into our skulls for weeks. Every time one of us thought we’d finally gotten rid of it, one or the other two would come into the room going “Aaaaalphabet JUUUNgle…duh-dundundun, duh-dundundun” (I have no idea now why we added the drum noises, but we did) and the agony would rinse, recycle, and repeat.
And remember kids, the temptation to sing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” is always just a whim away a whim away a whim away a whim away.
So now that I’ve taken a sharp right turn off the port bow, let’s get back to the original point: things that stick in your craw. At the beginning of my senior year of high school, I actually had summer homework (blech) to turn in on the very first day of class for all of my AP courses. Our English teacher, when she returned our papers to us a week later, complained that many of us had forgotten how to use quotation marks correctly. About half of the class had used apostrophes around our citations, rather than actual quotation marks. STOP THAT, she told us.
It was odd that we had lost our minds en masse. I actually remember writing that paper, and hesitating over whether it was single or double marks (and thus properly mortified later by the fact that I had picked the wrong one). What stuck with me — bothered me, even — was the fact that I wasn’t the only one. You can’t brush that off as a collective brain fart. None of us were cheats, besides the fact that there hadn’t been much of a chance to pass off bad habits to one another over the long summer months. There was, presumably, no reason for it.
Apparently it haunted me. Because a couple of days ago, sitting in my glider as I read a romance novel from England, I finally figured it out. We’d picked up British style quotations.* And why would a bunch of American kids suddenly and inexplicably start using the British style, without even knowing that’s what we were doing? Because we’d had to read a bunch of books for both AP English and AP History, half of which had been written by Brits.
Boring mystery solved. Only 14 years after the fact.
That still makes me feel accomplished.
Per thepunctuationguide.com: British style uses single quotes (‘) for initial quotations, then double quotes (“) for quotations within the initial quotation.