Season’s Greetings! Holiday Punctuation Tips

This is the time of year we are busily writing our holiday messages, so it’s important to note that those cheery holiday messages can be a slippery slope into punctuation errors. Read on to learn how to perfect your holiday greetings.

When to Capitalize

Different sources of reference have differing opinions on when to capitalize holiday terms. Any time you refer to the actual holiday by name, always capitalize it as you would a proper name. Below are examples from Merriam Webster Dictionary:

We’re spending Christmas with my parents.

We had a very happy Christmas this year.

I wish you all a merry Christmas.

You might notice that “merry” is not capitalized in the final example. Reference sources vary on this, and the Cambridge Dictionary’s example shows to capitalize “merry”:

I hope you have a very Merry Christmas!

The greeting cards I am mailing have the phrase capitalized. In this case, it’s probably more a matter of stylistic choice than following any specific reference source. Other common holiday greeting terms, happy holidays, merry Christmas, season’s greetings, are not capitalized. But note the apostrophe in “season’s”; it is the possessive form when used with “greetings.”

“Happy New Year” follows the same rule, so you would not capitalize “Happy” – unless it begins the sentence. You would include an apostrophe when using the terms New Year’s Eve, or New Year’s Day. According to Chicago Manual of Style, also capitalize “Eve” and “Day” when referring to the actual days.

When wishing someone a happy Hanukkah, knowing how to spell Hanukkah correctly is the most common question. According to Merriam Webster, common variants of the spelling are Chanukah or Hanukah. Why so many different ways to spell Hanukkah? The spelling often depends upon your religion, and most traditionalists will spell it “Chanukah.” In America, the most common spelling is “Hanukkah,” as this is the spelling used by the Library of Congress.

Other Holiday Terms

If you are planning to enjoy a glass of bubbly on New Year’s Eve, the word is capitalized – Champagne. Why is a drink name capitalized? This particular drink originates from the province in France – Champagne, France, so it would be capitalized.

Are you planning to give Grandma the gift of a beautiful red holiday plant? If you include a note, “I hope you enjoy this poinsettia,” is poinsettia capitalized?

The poinsettia plant is named for Joel Roberts Poinsett, a botanist and physician who was the first United States Ambassador to Mexico and who introduced the plant into the United States in 1828. So logic would tell you if it was named for a person, it would be capitalized, right? It depends. The Associated Press style manual capitalizes Poinsettia, but plant names are usually not capitalized, even when they are named for a person (the name of the species is not capitalized but the genus is). The only exception is when proper nouns are used, as in black-eyed Susan.

The real problem with poinsettia is the spelling, which ends with “ia.” We commonly pronounce the plant with an “a” as in poinsetta, but technically, even that pronunciation is incorrect. It’s poinsett-i-a.

Happy holidays from the MCC Writing Center!

(For further reading on the origins of Christmas, visit Encyclopedia Britannica. )

Breaking Down the Rhetorical Triangle

 

The concept of the rhetorical triangle has been in existence as far back as ancient Greece. The great philosopher and teacher, Aristotle, became fascinated with how rhetoric functions. How an individual says something, the emotions and sentiment used, conveys as much or more meaning as what one says, or the actual content of message. Aristotle defined 3 key elements of rhetoric: Logos, Ethos, and Pathos.

While many philosophers defined rhetoric in their own language, Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle is known and taught widely in modern-era composition classrooms. Studying the rhetorical triangle teaches writers whether or not they have created an effective argument. Over time, different scholars have conceived different models of rhetoric, so you may find the definitions vary slightly from text to text.

Logos

The Greek logos, means “word.” Originally, logos referred to the content of a speech and how it was organized, though today in speech or argument writing, a well-developed logos refers to a strong claim and reasoning, or the “message.” For effective logos, the argument must have

A Clear and Consistent Claim

Logical Reasons

Effective Evidence

The claim, or thesis, must be clear for the audience. The reasons are often referred to as “because clauses,” which is a simple way to define the argument in the early stages of drafting. For instance, the claim, “Rap music has a bad influence on teens,” can be completed with a logical reason: “Rap music has a bad influence on teens because it promotes disrespect for women.” Once a claim and reason are made, effective evidence must back up the claim for an effective argument.


Ethos

Greek for “character,” ethos refers to the writer’s (or speaker’s) perspective and credibility. A paper with a strong ethos will utilize several strategies to communicate the message effectively. A writer can develop ethos by utilizing effective tone and style; incorporating strong evidence and support; and including fair treatment of opposing views.

The writer or speaker must always be mindful of the impression created by their delivery of a message. Understanding audience plays an important role in effective ethos. When writing an argument, consider how you, as the speaker, are coming across. For effective ethos, the writer (or speaker) must

Be knowledgeable. Present strong reasoning and support for your argument.

Be fair. The opposition may disagree with your argument, but they may have their own valid opinions.

Understand your audience by using audience-based reasons.


Pathos

Pathos, Greek for “suffering” or “experience,” refers to the emotional appeal the writer makes to the audience. For effective pathos, the writer must first understand exactly who their audience is. Some texts refer to pathos as “audience.” Tone and style plays a large role in pathos.

One way to incorporate pathos into your argument is by telling a narrative story. For example, if you are arguing to legislate a one-strike law for drunk driving offenses, showing your audience the scene at a drunk driving accident will create sentiment and incite emotion that is more persuasive than reasoning alone. Storytelling, with vivid language and illustrations, can create a strong emotional reaction in an audience, moving them to your side.


Final Thoughts

Some instructors include other rhetorical elements, Telos, or “purpose,” and Kairos, or “setting.” All of these terms are interconnected, and each has qualities that affect how they interrelate. Each element in the rhetorical triangle, logos, ethos, and pathos, carries some responsibility for the success – or failure – of the argument.

 

(Some definitions from Writing Arguments: A Rhetoric with Readings)

Plagiarism: What is it and How to Avoid it

Plagiarism is using the ideas and words of others and failing to acknowledge the original source. However, college students are constantly exposed to the ideas of others. Students read texts, attend class lectures, watch documentaries, and even surf the internet where we are routinely inundated with unlimited online content. Students are often confused by all the complexities involved in citing sources, so determining when and how to cite information in research papers is always a challenge.

To avoid plagiarism, you must credit any source when using

  • another’s idea, opinion, or theory

  • statistics, graphs, charts, or other images

  • any direct quotations of written or spoken words

  • paraphrase or summary of another’s written or spoken words

In short, any time you incorporate another’s ideas or words in any form, regardless of whether you use a direct quote, or whether you paraphrase or summarize another’s information, you must clearly acknowledge the source or you could be accused of plagiarism.

Quoting and Paraphrasing

It’s most common to incorporate direct quotes into our research papers, and most students know to acknowledge the original source of any direct quotes used. But paraphrasing is another skill that you might utilize even more often than directly quoting sources. Paraphrasing, even though it isn’t the exact words of the original source, must be cited, so it’s imperative to learn how to paraphrase correctly.

When you want to paraphrase, you must not only change the words of the original source, but the sentence structure as well. Simply replacing one word with a synonym is not enough to avoid plagiarism.

Original –

“Childhood obesity is a serious medical condition that affects children and adolescents. It occurs when a child is well above the normal weight for his or her age and height. Childhood obesity is particularly troubling because the extra pounds often start children on the path to health problems that were once confined to adults, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.”

Paraphrase Considered Plagiarism –

Obesity in children is a serious condition that affects children and teens. It occurs when a child is above the normal weight for his or her age and height. Childhood obesity is particularly worrisome because the extra pounds often cause kids to have health problems, such as high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

 

Notice that in the paraphrased example, a few words were omitted and a few were changed to a word with the same meaning. The sentence structure – the order of the words in the sentence – however, has not been altered, except for one or two words. Basically, the second example is the same as the original, minus a few synonym changes. The best way to avoid plagiarism when paraphrasing is to read the section a few times, and then put it in your own words. Avoid cutting and pasting, then simply tweaking the language.

 

Plagiarism and the Internet

The World Wide Web is a wonderful thing. Boundless information is available at our fingertips, some of which has an author attributed to the writing, but many that do not. Don’t be fooled into thinking that an online source does not need to be acknowledged if no author’s name is attached. The rules apply to online sources of information just as they do to print sources, even blogs and social media. Any content taken from another source must be acknowledged. This includes not only ideas or theories, but also images, graphics, tables, charts – any type of information that you have not originally conceived.

If you can find no attributable author, then you would cite either by the title of the article, the web page, or the website name.

 

Information Considered Common Knowledge

Common knowledge is information that is widely known and available in numerous sources. Note the following statements, which would be considered common knowledge

The first president of the United States was George Washington.
The Earth is one of nine planets that orbit around the Sun.
World War II ended when the Allied troops defeated Nazi Germany and Japan.

These statements are widely known and widely read in texts. Each of these statements can be used in a research paper without acknowledging the original source, as the statements are general knowledge.

Experts sometimes disagree on how to judge what is considered common knowledge and what is not. Some facts that are common knowledge in one discipline may not be common knowledge in another. For instance, if a definition or fact is found in a highly specialized reference book, such as a medical reference book, but not readily known to a general audience, than it should probably be cited.

Understanding exactly what constitutes plagiarism is the first step to avoiding it. Take care to acknowledge any information you get from any type of source, be it print or online, with a given author, or no author. If you have any doubt about how or when to cite a source, always ask your professor.