Not Sure That Word Means What You Think It Means

While I share this individual's frustration with the Obama Administration's lack of transparency, I am not sure this phrasing quite works

“There is no precedent for President Obama’s Nixonian assertion of executive privilege over these ordinary government agency records,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton in a written statement.

If the assertion is "Nixonian", doesn't that imply that there is indeed a precedent?  Otherwise how would the practice be named after someone else?

PS- since we were on the subject of grammar and editing yesterday, I will say that yes, I know the comma after "Nixonian" above is supposed to be inside the quotes.  But as an engineer and former programmer, this rule is entirely illogical.   It's like writing 3+(x+y*)7 instead of 3+(x+y)*7.   I do it the way that makes logical sense.


  1. tmitsss:

    "I do it the way that makes logical sense." Well there's your problem

  2. Morlock Publishing:

    > I know the comma after "Nixonian" above is supposed to be inside the quotes.

    LOL! As a software engineer who's written about one million words of fiction, this aspect of the English language drives me ape-shit.

  3. mesaeconoguy:

    No. Nixon did not go nearly to the length Obola has to conceal evidence. Clinton didn’t even go that far.

    Nixon is the template for abuse of power. Obola has exceeded all prior precedents, including Nixon’s.

    You can exceed the prior example without rendering it irrelevant; it is a point of reference.

  4. Matthew Slyfield:

    "I do it the way that makes logical sense."

    I agree with you on this point, and if you get any complaints, just tell the grammar police to go pound sand.

  5. craftman:

    [Grammar pedant] Quotation marks shouldn't be used for emphasis, so the position of the comma is the least of your worries [/grammar pedant]

    In reality, I agree. Look at these two quotes.

    1) "I went to the store after work."
    2) "I went to the store," Mr. Obama said, "after work."

    The comma in #2 was not a part of the original statement, #1. Putting it inside the quotation marks makes it feel like the author paused when saying the original statement when he did not. The comma was only added as syntax after the author felt the need to interject with the "Mr. Obama Said" portion, thus it should not be quoted as if it was originally there.

  6. Steve Merryman:

    The internet is full of Grammar Nazis. Me? I'm more of a Grammar Hitler Youth.

  7. Daublin:

    That's an awful lot of withheld documents. I remember when it was considered scandalous for Bush or Cheney to have a single secret meeting with energy executives. It seems innocent and childlike that we used to worry about such a thing, compared to today's "I'm the boss and I'll do what I like" White House.

  8. Jens Fiederer:

    He might be correct in a legal sense. If Nixon had asserted executive privilege, and some court (in this case, presumably the Supremes) had ruled on it, that ruling (whether positive or negative) would have been considered a "precedent" binding on other courts (even the Supreme Court would tend to respect that precedent under "stare decisis", although it would not be 100% binding to them). If the matter had been settled by negotiations rather than a ruling, no legal precedent would have been generated (even though it would have been a precedent in the historical sense).

    I am not a lawyer, so this is just an educated guess on my part.

  9. Morlock Publishing:

    When writing fiction, this is exactly the effect one hopes to achieve with inserting the "X said" in the middle of the sentence.

  10. Brad Warbiany:

    I don't have an issue with putting "Nixonian" in quotes. In natural speech, it's not likely that Warren would refer to this action as Nixonian, when he's clearly remarking on the fact that the original author was the source of the term. The quotes make it clear that he doesn't necessarily view the usage of the word Nixonian as his own (whether he agrees with the characterization or not), so the quotes offset that it's not his word.

    Of course, I also agree that grammar rules are illogical, and support his civil disobedience to the Grammar Nazis.

  11. NL7:

    The inside rule makes logical sense when you're writing by hand rather than using a keyboard. If you are writing out longhand, the apostrophe is high up and pretty much directly above the comma, so it's a more rational use of space to let them both hug the word to the left. There'd be no reason to space the comma out to the right if doing so doesn't clarify the meaning or free up space to be occupied by the apostrophe. Now it's just aesthetics that dominate, and by custom most Americans prefer to see the comma first - and there's no such character that has an apostrophe directly centered above a comma.

  12. Matthew Slyfield:

    "Of course, there are other irrationalities"

    If you are going to go there, why do we drive on parkways and park on driveways?

  13. NL7:

    Or: I want to read the lead book about red lead that you led me to believe you already read.

  14. Onlooker from Troy:

    I'm with you on the punctuation. Drives me nuts.

  15. STW:

    I've been told that the comma is outside the quotes in many places that are not the U.S. I'd like to say I converted to the foreign way but, alas, I grumble and write as I was taught.

  16. Ben:

    Perhaps the principle is Nixonian and the degree to which it is being exercised is unprecedented. But the author could have clarified.

  17. Bill Drissel:

    I once spent fifteen minutes with half a dozen copy editor arguing that it was necessary to put the period OUTSIDE the quotes in:

    At the prompt, type "grep payable message.txt".

    Otherwise, the reader would get a "file not found" result.

    Bill Drissel
    Frisco, TX

  18. indirectly2u:

    Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

    but to play Devil's advocate, people writing letters by hand over the centuries would likely have imitated whatever style was in books and newspapers. And it is in newspapers, not letters, that's quotations usually appear. .

    Speculation I heard once (which could be wrong, obviously) was this all started in the years after the printing press was invented. That because the bits of lead had different widths, the thinnest ones had a tendency to fly off when the inked part on top was swung downwards. Hence protecting the littlest bits of metal. --Not that this makes much sense, since periods end all non-quoted sentences.

  19. jimcraq:

    Placing periods and commas inside quotation marks is British style.

  20. Barak A. Pearlmutter:

    The 'outside' rule is standard UK academic style (see, for example, or Instead of apologising you might wish to consider using British spelling and punctuation throughout and declare yourself an Anglophile. "Pint of bitter my good man."

  21. kidmugsy:

    Cheer up, your punctuation there is British standard. I hope you also use the Oxford comma.

  22. mahtso:

    A similar problem occurs even without the quotation marks, especially when typing for a live link -- the solution there is to leave an extra space before the period

  23. stanbrown:

    Nixonian -- to abuse executive privilege.

    Unprecedented -- Obamanian

  24. Sam L.:

    I agree. "Nixonian" is a single, complete entity, so the comma comes after.

  25. kidmugsy:

    Only in the sense that it isn't.

  26. NL7:

    I've heard that theory as well, which is a different manifestation of the same spacing issue. Not sure if either the handwriting or printing block theory is true. I think my point was that language rules usually serve some original purpose, and it's not always as arbitrary in origin as we think. But then, the best response is Warren's: simply begin to consciously use a new usage that you think works better. The downside is that lots of people love to correct grammar, so you need to explain the intentional change in usage.

  27. Sam:

    Mr. Fitton is in error. The precedent for "President Obama’s Nixonian assertion of executive privilege" is United States v. Nixon. President Nixon lost at the Supreme Court.

    If he is correct that the assertion is "Nixonian" then the precedent states that it is illegal.

    Ha ha.

  28. Just a thought:

    It's language, not rocket science.

    But yes, I feel very self-conscious every time I do it correctly (every once in a while not, just for fun), but rules is rules, after all.

  29. Guest:

    Duh. You are correct.

  30. jdgalt:

    Shouldn't that be spelt Obaminable?

  31. jdgalt:

    The precedent for abuse of executive authority dates back to Andrew Jackson.

    When Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, directing the army to remove all Native Americans from east of the Mississippi, several tribes sued and won: the Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional. Whereupon Andrew Jackson said, "John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it." President Jackson ordered the army to go ahead with the operation; they did; and he got away with it scot-free.

    This set a clear precedent for just what "separation of powers" means, which endures to this day, namely that there is no remedy, except impeachment by Congress, for any misbehavior by a president. (It also proves that we do NOT enjoy "a government of laws and not of men.")

    It greatly offends me that most American histories leave this episode out.

  32. jdgalt:

    It's also programmer style (link).