Don't Quote Me on That

3:00 PM

Great article - I wish I had written it! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. (Probably not the case since I'm over the top when it comes to grammar.)

Do You Abuse Quotation Marks?
By Martha Brockenbrough

There's a fine line between funny and annoying -- and it's exactly the width of a quotation mark. But it's not the quotation mark that deserves our wrath. It's our bad habits:
• We use them when they're not needed. My favorite taco stand claims to recycle "cans." I also have a hair dryer that says, "Always 'unplug it' immediately after using." I find this vaguely embarrassing. I'm most forgiving of this, because it comes from swiftly cured ignorance.
• We make quote fingers. Please, for the love of your knuckles, stop it. If you can't, at least know that you're supposed to say "quote, unquote," not "quote, end quote." (And if you must do this overseas, be aware of the local customs. In Germany, one hand goes up and the other goes down, mimicking the direction of the printed quotation marks they use. In France, they make sideways v's to look like the guillemets they use to open and close quotations.)
• We use them as a shortcut to funny. When we use them to show we're being euphemistic, ironic or sarcastic, it's like having to explain our jokes. If this is necessary, the jokes aren't funny. Believe me, I know (which is funny because I make jokes that aren't funny all the time -- get it?).

If you're guilty of crimes against the inverted comma, as the Brits call it, it's perhaps time to mend your ways.

• Use them to indicate direct quotes. He said, "I put my entire foot in my mouth." Note: indirect quotes are different. "He said he put his entire foot in his mouth" doesn't need the quotation marks. And for the love of all that is pure, please do not put them around "foot," or people will talk.
• Use them to set off titles of movies, books, essays and songs. Yes, titles are sometimes italicized, as in books. But newspapers and publications that can't easily support italics use quotation marks for this. Publication names, on the other hand, are not set off in quotation marks. Thus, it's People magazine, not "People" magazine (even if some of the celebrities on the cover are at least 50-percent implants).
• Use them to set off nicknames: Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle was acquitted on murder charges, but he never worked in Hollywood again. Quotation marks are only necessary when the nickname is sandwiched within the real name. Fatty Arbuckle, for example, doesn't need them.
• Use them to show that you're coining a new word or using a specific term that needs definition: I'm sitting in my "cloffice" -- in other words, the closet I use as my office.
• Use them to make your meaning clearer when you're referring to a word as a word. The "that" in the sentence was unnecessary. (If you're saying this out loud, though, you really don't need to use the finger quotes.)
• Do not use them to be cute, funny or ironic. Chances are, you will be none of the above -- and you actually might make people think you're saying the opposite of what you intend.

The bottom line? Good writers stand behind words, not punctuation tricks. And you can quote me on that.

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25 comments

  1. Cute article... I get ill with people (and there are lots of them around these areas) that say things the wrong way. My Mom is the world's worst at using "learn" instead of "teach". She kills me, telling people that she's going to "learn them something"! BTW... Hope I used the quotations OK?!? Have a great week!

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  2. you should post one on the difference in your and you're. that one makes me crazy! oh, and the difference between plural and possessive. i could go on and on.

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