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You ask "who thought up the idea of putting periods and commas inside the quotation marks"? Who indeed? This is a convention which I discovered recently (after 25 years as a writer, editor and publisher in the UK). I was commissioned to write a book by an American publisher who asked me to write things such as "This is a quotation." with the "." in quotes rather than "This is a quotation". with the "." outside. I was told that this practice is encouraged by various august manuals of style. How, then, had I never noticed it before? I asked among some writer and copy editor friends and none of them had heard of this convention either. Further research reveals that this is a US/UK difference. American writers prefer punctuation inside quotations (this is called either "conventional" or "aesthetic" punctuation). In the UK we prefer punctuation outside quotations unless it forms a part of the quotation (this is called "logical punctuation"). In "Modern English Usage", Fowler rails against the American convention. He says, "The conventional system flouts common sense, and it is not easy for the plain man to see what merit it is supposed to have to outweigh that defect." I must admit that I tend to agree. I don't lose sleep over the punctuation which my American publisher insists that I put into quotations. Even so, I don't like it. As Fowler says, I really can't see the sense in it.
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Dec 8, 2010