Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, September 14, 2009

Can I Get a "Ruling": Quotation Marks for Emphasis

For today's Can I Get a Ruling: the dread "quotation marks" for "emphasis."

As I'm sure you all know, quotation marks either denote a direct quote or to show irony or euphemism. They're not used for emphasis. So.... I don't care what your sign says, I'm not eating your "fresh" mozzarella.

The improper use of quotations is properly skewered in the hilarious site The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks. My particular favorite is the sign that "pool" "closed", which definitely leaves a lot to the imagination.

What I find especially "odd" about "improper quotation marks" is that it seems to be mainly a generational thing: it's most common among people over the age of 50. Was there a golden era of quotation marks where they were used for emphasis and we "younguns" just don't know what we're "talking about?"

What's the story on "incorrect" quotation marks? Anyone?






198 comments:

Ryan Smith said...

My mother is a frequent random quotation mark user. She'll often leave notes for me at home that read like:

Went to the "store." Be "back" around "5:30."
"Love,"
Mom

Perhaps my mother has a secret life of which I am not aware...

Lady Glamis said...

I just saw a few examples of this today around the blogosphere, and was chuckling to myself.

My vote is that quotation marks should never denote emphasis.

Kiersten White said...

I have NO IDEA. I've always preferred RANDOM ALL CAPS to show what NEEDS to be EMPHASIZED.

Quotation marks are way funnier though. After all, I'm "smart" about things like this.

Etiquette Bitch said...

I've no idea of the story, Nathan...sorry.

My favorite misused quotation mark story: My friend's band (name: West of Rome) was playing their first-ever gig in a dive bar somewhere in Wisconsin. How the bar publicized it: with a torn-off piece of cardboard in the window that read:

Tonight: West of Rome "BAND"

I think he still has it.

ghostwriter said...

All punctuation with the exception of periods will soon be a thing of the past with the text message generation.

But hey, no worries! Danielle Steele proves you can use one-third as many periods as other authors, and still hit the bestseller list.

Steven Till said...

I'm not sure why some feel the need to overuse or incorrectly use quotation marks. Generally, isn't the accepted style for emphasis to use italics?

I always think about the SNL Chris Farley skit when someone incorrectly uses quotation marks.

150 said...

My theory is that quotation marks are a stand-in for stars or other wingdings that would indicate emphasis, and it doesn't occur to the users that the quotation-mark-wingding adds a different meaning.

My side theory is that since quoted endorsements add emphasis (Frosted Flakes: "They're great!"), some people make the connection between quotation marks and emphasis rather than endorsement and emphasis (Joe's Pizza: It's "great"!)

Yat-Yee said...

Ryan: your mother really wrote that??!!

I don't know if it is a generational thing, I have seen it used by people of all ages.

How many pairs of quotation marks will we see in the comments today?

a cat of impossible colour said...

Aaaargh! Horrible, horrible. I used to work as a copywriter, and one of my clients owned a hairdressing salon with the slogan '"best" "haircuts" ever!' I hate to think. And I never managed to persuade him to change it.

Austin Williams said...

@ ghostwriter - Thanks for reminding me of why slitting my wrists right now might not be such a bad idea.

Anyway...

Coulnd't help but think of this: http://willwm.files.wordpress.com/2008/04/quotationmarks-thumb.jpg

Sandra D. Coburn said...

My mother does this, too. She also underlines and double underlines special words on greeting cards. She is 84. I have a little over three years before I hit "50." I hope I don't start with the quotation marks for "emphasis" any time soon!

Catharine said...

My grandfather, born in 1900,an erudite English Major and ferocious student of literature often used quotation marks to highlight or accent something in a letter. I think we take for granted crazy fonts, bolding, italics,etc. Back in the day when the ACTUAL pen was mightier...the quotation marks may have served a higher purpose!

The Amateur said...

Ha ha! I've never seen that and I can't believe people actually do that. I use italics and I also use them incorrectly, some would say, to separate a character's thoughts from the rest of the action. I guess really it's a stylistic choice in that instance. Also, enough with the finger quotation marks while talking. It's. Annoying. ;)

Travener said...

I can live with quotation marks. What drives me nuts is unnecessary apostrophes ("I'll send you some photo's of our trip") or people who overcorrect and use "I" when they should use "me" because they were all taught it's bad to say "Frank and me went to the store." So they wind up saying gibberish like, "He wound up giving the beer to Mike and I."

My old 4th-grade teacher Miss Koykendall taught me way back in 1961 that all you had to do if you weren't sure was take "Mike" out of that sentence and say it to yourself again and see if it sounded right using "I" instead of "me."

(You note my generous use of quotation marks.)

Don't even get me started on "it's" when you mean "its"...

www.thebiglitowski.blogspot.com

Dawn VanderMeer said...

Like Steven Till, I thought italics were okay for emphasis (as long as they're not overused). Are they?! Ah! Self-doubt! I loved that quote from that Gwyneth Paltrow movie about putting the wrong emPHAsis on the wrong syllAble. (I didn't care for the movie, just the quote.)

Brenda said...

Can I get a "Ruling".

Well, to me, that sums up the intention of this kind of use of quotation marks. i.e. not so much for emphasis, but to denote 'so-called'. I mean, the comments consensus is not really going to be an actual ruling is it?

Vegas Linda Lou said...

Well, I'm over 50 and I sure as hell know how to use quotation marks. I'm always surprised that people don't know this simple rule:

Commas and periods always go INSIDE closing quotation marks. Always, always, always!

(Well, maybe not always. British usage calls for the period outside the closing quotation. But if you’re an American writer, commas and periods always go inside.)

Incorrect: “Altoids”, I said, “are the heroin of breath mints”.
Correct: “Tic-Tacs,” I continued, “are nothing but a gateway mint.”

Laura Martone said...

I'm with Lady Glamis... quotation marks are not intended for emphasis... they're for irony. So, the "pool" "closed" sign leaves A LOT to the imagination indeed...

Wilkie said...

Hilarious!

"As I'm sure you all know, quotation marks either denote a direct quote or to show irony or euphemism. They're not used for emphasis."

YES, yes, Nathan, you are absolutely right. I haven't encountered the emphatic quote before, but I'll have to check out that site for a good laugh.

There's also a scene in the movie Role Models that makes fun of the emphatic use of quotes in speech- Jane Lynch/Paul Rudd/ Seann William Scott= awesome- you should all check it out.

Liz Wolfe said...

ARGGGHH! The misuse of quotations is one of my pet peeves. I don't think it's generational because I'm (sigh) over 50 and I've never heard that it's correct to use them for emphasis.
What's really amusing is the mis-use of air-quotes.

Anna Claire said...

Catherine has a really good point; I never thought of that. My aunt, one of the few who still sends me letters (and not e-mail; she doesn't own a computer) also uses quotations for emphasis. She's a former history teacher, but she's also 58.

As an editor, I love seeing grammar/punctuation posts. Whatever helps get the word out!

Corrie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sally F said...

Various language peeves jockey for top of my list. Random use of quotation marks ranks in this week's top five, thanks to a special "offer" left on my doorknob (which "expires" Wednesday, I kid you not).

I hadn't thought of it as a generational thing. I assumed these were the same people who believe changing a font (or color) mid-headline makes for great design emphasis.

Kourtnie McKenzie said...

According to Wikipedia:

"Another common use of quotation marks is to indicate or call attention to ironic or apologetic words:

He shared his “wisdom” with me.

The lunch lady plopped a glob of “food” onto my tray.

To avoid the potential for confusion between ironic quotes and direct quotations, some style guides specify single quotation marks for this usage, and double quotation marks for verbatim speech. Quotes indicating irony, or other special use, are sometimes called scare, sneer, shock, distance, or horror quotes. They are sometimes gestured in oral speech using air quotes."

So apparently there's a lot of irony in that closed pool! :)

Corrie said...

Oops. Sorry about the deleted post.

What I "meant" to do was add the hyperlink:

Chris Farley's Bennet Brauer gets the prize for best use of quotation marks.

Rebecca Knight said...

I think you should "always" use quotation marks to emphasize something :D. And by "always" of course, I mean never.

Laura Martone said...

I have to agree with Travener re: "it's" versus "its." The misuse of either typically drives me batty!

As I mentioned in a recent blog post, I once opened a fortune cookie, only to find the following statement: "It could be better, but its good enough." Given the context of the avoid-perfectionism adage, the misuse of "its" was freakin' hilarious... and I still have that fortune taped to my laptop as a reminder that we all make mistakes sometimes...

Rick Daley said...

It's a natural part of the evolution of our language. Or an eventuality of the intelligent design of our language, whichever perspective you prefer.

Therefore I don't think it's "incorrect" it's just "annoying."

WORD VERIFICATION: chypton. Golf terminology. EX: My ball landed near the green so I chypton.

Jael said...

There are few things more "wrong" and "troubling" to me than these "unnecessary" quotation "marks". "Thanks" for bringing this "issue" to our "attention"... "Nathan."

PS - That blog is my "favorite."

Marilyn Peake said...

My impression is that quotation marks were used in place of "italics" when typewriters made it too difficult to add italics. I wonder if sometimes the current trend to leave out quotation marks except where absolutely necessary has gone a bit too far.

When characters are thinking rather than talking, the writer’s expected to convey the characters’ thought processes without using quotation marks, and usually without using italics or any other special type of marking.

I’m currently reading THE HISTORIAN by Elizabeth Kostova. The novel is narrated by a woman who’s telling the story of Professor Rossi, as told to her by her father. The novel is excellent, but it jumps around from one point of view to another, tending to use quotation marks only for speech that is taking place in the present tense of any particular story. I read most of THE HISTORIAN so far when I was tired, and last night I had to go back and figure out exactly what had happened to whom, as it was a bit confusing. It seems to me that when the narrator begins talking about her father, the story tends to move directly into her father’s experience, through his own eyes, as he talks about his experience with Professor Rossi. At that point, only Professor Rossi’s statements are set in quotation marks, so it sometimes seems as though the narrator’s still speaking. She might be saying "I" and talking about her father, but the next time "I" is used, it’s actually her father speaking – without quotation marks to designate her father’s speech that she’s introduced. A bit confusing, although I'm still enjoying the novel.

Shakier Anthem said...

Yeah, my grandmother often puts quotation marks around my "name" and the "date" when she sends me "Happy birthday" cards. "Love," Grandma.

Apparently, other languages do use quotation marks for emphasis rather than irony, though:
http://www.unnecessaryquotes.com/2007/09/ok-this-is-fascinating.html

Rick Daley said...

Vegas Linda Lou, thank you for the "fresh" perspective on mints.

Seriously - that was funny. (Can I say it that way, or is my implication offset by the juxtaposition?)

Bane of Anubis said...

How 'bout not using quotes.... hmmm, who does that? Well, if someone doesn't use quotes, why can't someone else use them everywhere?

Anonymous said...

Wow, call me shoulder season or over the hill of beans, but I have probably been guilty of misusing quotation marks.
I DO appreciate being gently shown the right way though, so thank you.
It seems to be that quotation marks reached their obnoxious state when comedians started using them on tv in skits. They were used ad nausiam.

Marsha Sigman said...

I have no "clue". I'm not anywhere near fifty (and if I was I would lie) but I still "like" them.

Martha Brockenbrough said...

Nathan, this is what I said on behalf of the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar.

"There's a fine line between funny and annoying -- and it's exactly the width of a quotation mark..."

Read the rest: http://encarta.msn.com/encnet/Features/Columns/?article=QuotationMarks&GT1=27004

(Amusingly enough, quotation mark abuse has led to the arrests of murderers.)

Maya / מיה said...

Bothers me, but not as much as misplaced apostrophes. I mean, apostrophe's. AAARGH! So I'm "with" you, Travener. (Hmm. It's fun how quotation marks change the meaning of sentences! For the record, I'm not "with" with Travener. I'm just with Travener. As in, I "agree" with Travener. And by "agree," I mean "agree." Not "'agree.'")

Er, right.

Mira said...

One of the benefits of not paying attention to English class in elementary school is that I now have no working knowledge of this thing called "grammer." Um, or spelling, now that I think of it.

Therefore, I am free. I am not enslaved. I am thes Master; grammer must bow before me and serve me in any random way I choose.

And I'm sticking to that. Until I learn the rules anyway.

Nathan, that was a wonderful workshop - thank you. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and learned alot more than I expected! I especially appreciated how thoughtful you were. You ate lunch on your own, just so you could stay available to people who wanted to speak with you. You also varied the activities which kept it fresh and interesting. My only complaint was I wanted alittle more time where you were talking! But it was great, and I'm now happy to know the 'secrets' of a literary agent. Thank you.

Natalia Maldonado said...

This reminds me of the episode of Friends where Ross is frustrated with Joey because he doesn't know how to use air quotes correctly. Joey at one point responds: I'm "sorry".

Also, recently saw an ad on Craigslist that said: Writers "needed"

So I was left wondering, did they really need writers? Maybe it was just a longing? Or a whoever-shows-up-we'll-pay-you-25-cents-if-you-can-string-three-words-together type of deal?

Novice Writer Anonymous said...

Can't answer the gratuitous quotation mark, but here's another site where you can laugh at it.

http://cakewrecks.blogspot.com

Sam Hranac said...

Ben Franklin wrote a rant flaming newspapers that changed his type setting and odd capitalization, which he used for emphasis. (I read this in a "collection" of his "works" called "Fart Proudly.")

I'm guessing that ridged rules around such things were less stylish in days gone by.

Marilyn Peake said...

Here’s another interesting take on quotation marks used for emphasis: Conveying Emphasis by John McWhorter.

The Amateur said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kimber An said...

Hate 'em, but I don't know what else to use. My characters are always telepathizising, so italics are out. Maybe we should just write in such a way that the reader can figure it out herself.

Scott said...

Too much "thought" for my tired brain. Personally, I like the italics function of Word if I want some significance (notice I didn't use the 'E' word) on a particular word in a particular time. For me, the only time I use quotation marks outside of dialogue or quoting somebody is in the comments of blogs where I'm not saavy enough to figure out high to italicize a word, so I use the dreaded, misplaced quotation "marks", even though all I want to do is italicize the word. Go figure.

S

teacherwriter said...

It might be interesting to some to see this list of other uses for quotation marks.

However credible, the following comes from this link: http://www.answers.com/topic/quotation-mark

Signaling unusual usage
Quotation marks are also used to indicate that the writer realizes that a word is not being used in its current commonly accepted sense.

Crystals somehow "know" which shape to grow into.
In addition to conveying a neutral attitude and to call attention to a neologism, or slang, or special terminology (also known as jargon), quoting can also indicate words or phrases that are descriptive but unusual, colloquial, folksy, startling, humorous, metaphoric, or contain a pun:

Dawkins’s concept of a meme could be described as an "evolving idea."

People use quotation marks in this way to:

indicate descriptive but unusual, colloquial, folksy words or phrases
indicate descriptive but startling, humorous, or metaphoric words or phrases
distance the writer from the terminology in question so as not to be associated with it. For example, to indicate that a quoted word is not official terminology, or that a quoted phrase presupposes things that the author does not necessarily agree with.
indicate special terminology that should be identified for accuracy's sake as someone else's terminology, for example if a term (particularly a controversial term) pre-dates the writer or represents the views of someone else, perhaps without judgement (contrast this neutrally-distancing quoting to the negative use of scare quotes)
The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), 15th edition[4] acknowledges this type of use but cautions against overuse in section 7.58, "Quotation marks are often used to alert readers that a term is used in a nonstandard, ironic, or other special sense [...] They imply ‘This is not my term,’ or ‘This is not how the term is usually applied.’ Like any such device, scare quotes lose their force and irritate readers if overused."


Use–mention distinction
Main article: Use–mention distinction
Either quotation marks or italic type can emphasize that an instance of a word refers to the word itself rather than its associated concept.

Cheese is derived from milk.
"Cheese" is derived from a word in Old English.
Cheese has calcium, protein, and phosphorus.
Cheese has three es.

~Aimee States said...

Life before pop italics and crucial caps could be a glittering essay....

Daniel said...

A lot of information contained in ordinary conversation is nonverbal, and writers have to be aware of this when writing dialog.

Body language that is emphatic or explanatory can be very clumsy to describe, and information or subtext conveyed through intonation is also difficult to translate onto the page.

Anything you write is filtered through the reader, and when you write dialog, you have to remember that the reader will be visualizing this scene, essentially performing it in his head. Conventional punctuation, your commas, semicolons and full-stops, will help guide the reader. If they don't get the job done, you probably need to revise.

Quotations to indicate irony, or italics or ALL CAPS may successfully serve to make the reader infer the right meaning onto text otherwise stripped of context. I think these techniques are useful for casual e-mails or instant messages or Facebook updates.

But if you're writing dialog in some kind of narrative work, these are lazy ways to to try to provide information, and they tend to signal the writer's limitations.

There may occasionally be a situation where rhythm or cadence of speech is very crucial to what is being said, and there's no other way to supply it. But you want to find alternatives where possible.

I think the best approach is to be conscious of how you're using irony. It shouldn't be hard to avoid a situation where irony or sarcasm must be conveyed exclusively through the character's tone.

My favorite way to deal with this is to pull the irony out of the subtext and put it into the actual text.

For example: "These vegetables are so fresh, they taste like they might have been plucked out of a dumpster just this morning."

You can also use the unspoken thoughts of a perspective character to underscore the irony of the dialog. For example:

He showed up half an hour late.
"I appreciate your punctuality," I said.

Elaine 'still writing' Smith said...

Hey Vegas Linda Lou

Commas and "full stops" always go INSIDE closing quotation marks - "periods" go somewhere entirely different.

British usage calls for the full stop outside the closing quotation - only for the ironic variety. :)

Liesl said...

I don't think it's for emphasis. I think people put quotations when they can't commit to their words. If you put a quotation, it's like saying "I'm not really saying this. It's just an idea. Make it whatever you like best." Since my generation has a problem with the idea of "commitment" this seems to fit. But I don't know, perhaps the quotations also add a "humorous/snarky" factor.

Brenda Pierson said...

When I was in school we would use the visual "quotation marks" to denote sarcasm or to point out something ridiculous (e.g. 'She's "sick" today' when we knew she was just ditching school). So now when I see them on something like 'Went to the "store"' I wonder where they REALLY went.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

My favorite was a for sale sign that said "brand new" house. What does that mean???

Rachelle said...

I "hate" improper quotation marks. However, many online forums like "Facebook" and "Twitter" don't allow other ways of emphasizing text, such as italics or bold.

So occasionally I stoop to these "marks" for emphasis.

By the way, I HATE ALL CAPS EVEN MORE.

Deniz Kuypers said...

This blog post is hilarious. What annoys me are a) incorrect use of it's vs. its ("the lion lifted it's paw"--ugh) and b) incorrect use of possessives ("24 hour's notice"--ugh again).

Sarah said...

Aaaarrrrgggghhhhhhhh!

deep breath....

No, I don't think they should be used for emphasis.

I could emphasize points in conversation by communicating only by singing appropriate Broadway lyrics. But then folks would concentrate more how I'm creating emphasis rather than the point I'm actually trying make.

Or they might just run, which would be completely justifiable.

Point is, I end up wondering more about random quotations marks than the words they surround.

jimnduncan said...

Wasn't so long ago that I used them instead of italics, but that was because I had been told that agents/editors didn't want italics in the ms's. Something to do with formatting I'd guess. Though underlining indicates same thing without the annoyance of quotes. Anyway, I believe it's a product (for new gen, not old) of format issues and/or just not knowing the proper way to do it.

Frontline Ink said...

Here's a response inspired by a Popeye's sign with excessive quotations. I wish I could add the picture to this comment, but you'll get the idea.

According to the sign "Popeyes" may or may not be the name of the establishment (should I be worried?) and they may or may not "open" at "10."

And maybe they never really "close" but I'm not so sure. And their "dining room" is apparently a dining room in name only.

Need I go on?

Maybe "Popeye's" should fix the sign and remove some of the ambiguity of the message.

Just a "thought."

Anita Saxena said...

It reminds me of that episode of Friends where Joey can't quite figure out when to use mid-air quotations in a conversation.

Anonymous said...

For the generation over 50? You sure about that, Nathan? I see it far more in the "young," along with further complete carelessness about punctuation of any kind, not just tweeting and texting.

Regan Leigh said...

Ryan Smith- That is just... "wonderful." :)

One summer, at a friend's beach house, we found her grandmother's old hairdryer. It was still in the box, which proudly stated in bold letters:

"NO ASBESTOS"

We still laugh about that. And we all love the Unnecessary Quotes blog.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

I really do see it more in the older generation, although young people are of course not quotation free. But like some of the other commenters here I have received many a "thank you" note or "happy" birthday card from an older relative, and I see the same thing in queries.

susie sullivan said...

i love "air quoting", to quote a phrase. and rather than indicating emphasis (which i would have put in italics if i could have found the italics option), (comma) i use them for sarcasm, as in "supposedly called". once i did entire esl class air quoting. we were in stitches!

Lydia Sharp said...

I never noticed that a certain generation randomly "quotationalizes" things.

However, I'd like to think that MY generation will go down in history for starting the ALL CAPS method, inventing made up words to suit their purpose (or because we like to BS!), and randomly "parenthesizing" phrases that could justifiably be enclosed between two commas because we feel the need to add an unnecessary exclamation point.

Laura said...

That blog reminded me of this: http://www.hulu.com/watch/2331/saturday-night-live-update---bennett-brauer

;D

Laura said...

oh dangit, someone "beat me to it."

Laura said...

p.s. I dislike all caps for emphasis. I always feel like the words are yelling at me, not the character. Write your prose so you don't need to tell the reader where the emphasis goes-- they should be able to tell from the tone and nature of the dialogue, but that's just my opinion. It always feels like a writer is dumbing it down for me when they stress words or phrases like that.

I also hate the fact that folks in America are forever putting their commas and periods outside of the quotation marks. Frustrating. I'm trying to correct that, one college student at a time.

(End cranky English prof rant.)

Natasha Fondren said...

This is interesting, because my stepfather always writes cards to "Natasha," and my husband, who is significantly older than I am, CONSTANTLY uses unnecessary quotation marks, which drives me batty!

Cheryl Gower said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Larissa said...

OMG - this comment thread is "hilarious."

I, for one, hope that people "never" stop using quotation marks for emphasis. I "love" the comic "relief."

A Paperback Writer said...

Misused quotation marks for the over-50 set, and compete ignorance of how to make a plural possessive for the under 50 set -- it's fair.

Donna Hole said...

I agree they're used more for irony in comments than for emphasis. I also use all caps when I'm EMPHATIC about something.

My mom does the double underling thing too. Like that ever made me "jump" right into whatever it was she wanted.

.........dhole

word verif: fritine. Come on Thermocline, give me a clue.

Christy Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

I LOVE USING "QUOTES" AND ALSO LOTS OF CAPS!

AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!

PEOPLE "LOVE" READING MY POSTS!!!!

Haste yee back ;-) said...

When over 50's cat-scratch words...

We want to emphasize/specialize the word(s) -- so the young read/heed the information!

We feel we've imbued the word(s) with exceptional or unusual emotional content!

We reached an age where we don't give a flyin' F--K what Miss/Mr. Grammar Pants says!

"" "" "" "" "" ""... here, kids, use with indiscretion and wear a purple poka dot hat if ya want to, or sew a gold ring in the middle of you forehead!

Life's just too short for "literary" pretense, arrogance, pomposity and sycophant "see"!

Haste yee back ;-)

Cheryl Gower said...

I was surprised when you said people over 50 do this more than younger people. I'm definitely over 50 and do not remember any fashion craze when " " were in style. I figured since young people use their first two fingers on each hand to enclose a word they are stressing/emphasizing as they speak that this is where it comes from. They translate it this way in their writing.

Italics, underlines or ALL CAPS are used for stressing/emphasizing.

LCS249 said...

I'm sorry but Mike Myers made us do it. Doctor Evil and his "laser."

Larissa said...

Christy, I am saving your post because I am still laughing about it!
"THANKS!!!!!!"

Sharon Mayhew said...

I have a punctuation question, Nathan.

Is this correct or incorrect?
WHERE DOES THE SNOW GO? is a 570 word....

What about this?

"Can I please, Mrs." said little Betsy.

LCS249 said...

oh, yeah. It's all the young dudes who have screwed things up royally by saying "there's" when they mean "there are." (There's so many examples of, like, such really bad grammar, like really.)

Quote that.

annerallen said...

jimnduncan, I think when you read that instruction to use quotation marks instead of italics, it was for titles of books, which used to be underlined and now are italicized. But both can render a title unreadable if there's any e-mail format incompatiblity. I've read that quotation marks work better for e-mail clarity, but others say all caps is the best way to set apart a book title.

Nathan, do you have an opinion about that?

I think Liesl has it right about the sort of older folks (mostly women?) who overuse quotation marks. I have a 75 year old neighbor who uses them for pretty much every "noun." She's also generally fearful of voicing an opinion. I think she may indeed be afraid of making a "commitment" to her own "words."

Laurel said...

Rick:

I beg to differ. It is not the "evolution" of our language but rather the "devolution."

And if you doubt this phenomenon I invite you to rural Georgia where you can eat "Bar-B-Q", purchase ice that is in fact "COLD", and at some fueling stations they even have "Gas".

A little aside- why are the pigs pictured at the slow pit-cooked barbeque places always so happy?

Donna Hole said...

Congratulations on a wonderful workshop presentation Nathan. I really enjoyed it, and hope you do another one in the near future.

For anyone who didn't get to attend I've posted a "brief" summary (with Nathan's permission, of course) at http://donnahole.blogspot.com/

......dhole

word verif: lixtrif. Possibly a creature from the novel "Does Mars Make Me Look Fat".

ginger said...

NOOOO!! We folks over 50 do know how to use quotation marks correctly! And not only that, but... get this... we learned how to diagram sentences! Bet you young whippersnappers can't do that!

Regan Leigh said...

Laurel- Amen. :)

J.J. Bennett said...

I've never seen anything so strange. I guess it takes all kinds? My vote is ...No.

Jen P said...

I agree with Donna - I've never experienced use of quotation marks for emphasis. However I have often seen them used as print version of the two fingers-per-hand-drawing-quotation-marks-in-the-air (like vertically wiggling bunny ears) when saying something meant ironically or indicating it wasn't true or as a euphemism.

"Funny how he ended up really "tired" after drinking "only two" beers", said Mandy.

Firefly said...

Okay -- I'm over fifty. I don't use quotations for emphasis. I do use quotations marks for sarcasm, or for 'made up' words. My preference is single quotation marks for this purpose. I'm certain that's incorrect. My mother and grandmother both use(d) the underlining trick -- frequently. Now, I mightbe tempted to be outraged at the implication that older people are more grammatically incorrect... but no time for that. By the way, I've recently learned that I often use the ellipsis incorrectly as well. Nevertheless, thanks for turning me on to "The Blog of Unnecessary Quotation Marks." That made my day!

Cynthia said...

We in the under fifty set seem to like the trend of quotes with neologisms. They are used to connote that the writer understands that they are, in fact, making up a word. Examples: "fauxhawk", "frenemy."

CKHB said...

I have no idea who is responsible for this "grammar." Improper quotation marks make me angry. I'm 36.

lotusgirl said...

I've never seen any of the older people I know using quotes for emphasis. It seem crazy if you ask me. Maybe it's a regional thing as well as age thing.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Quoting doesn't bother me if it's a catchphrase, slogan, etc., or if it's being done in a tongue-in-cheek way. If it's for emphasis, that's what italics or underlining is for, in my book. (And even then it should be rare! Structure your sentences so that the emphasis is obvious!)

Narnian Girl said...

This whole thing cracks me up. Thanks for the Chris Farley link! Another classic example of misused air quotations is the episode of Friends where Joey confesses that he just doesn't get it. He ends up saying a heartfelt, "I'm sorry" in the end. It's so funny!

I agree about the older generations maybe learning different rules. My grandmother, born in 1905 used to sign her cards to my mom: Love, "Mom". Which was somewhat disturbing and very hilarious.

AM said...

Well, I can't be certain of the source, but my daughter and her friends use "air-quotes" to stress sarcasm.

Perhaps they learned to use quotes from their grandparents or perhaps the use of quotes are making a return with the younger generation. Gasp, just like seventies fashion!

Stephanie Faris said...

I have to watch myself in my manuscripts to avoid overusing the italicized emphasis (underlined in the manuscript, of course). In my blog I find too often I'm ALL CAPSing to show emphasis. It's fine sparingly...but if I'm using it every sentence or so I realize the blog starts to read like a ransom note!

Anonymous said...

Is this based on a query received today?

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

No, I actually wrote this post a couple of weeks ago and only just posted it.

Jen C said...

Haha, if I was reading a book that had quotation marks for emphasis I would certainly put it down / throw it across the room, after I was done laughing.

I am, however, addicted to amusing air quotations.

D. G. Hudson said...

I don't like the use of quotation marks for emphasis. They clutter up the text.

But - I disagree that it's the over 50 (or boomers)who abuse this and other grammar rules. There is a dearth of online bastardization of the English language, and the majority is coming from younger age groups. Most of the experimentation in language use developed after most of the over 50 group completed their education. The use of massive abbreviation in the techie world (texting, etc.)that exists today has led many to believe that grammar, and punctuation rules are only guidelines and can be manipulated to suit one's taste.

IMO - tweeting and instant messaging promote shorthand thinking and writing.

LindaBudz said...

My birthday card just last week from my parents was signed by my mom: Have a "great" day. "Love" you lots, Mom and Dad.

Maybe I should send her a thank-you note: What a "nice" card!

Lilit Hotham said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lilit Hotham said...

I've always used caps and italics to emphasize but if I'm being humorous I use the quotations. Time and place I suppose.

What is the proper way to emphasize?

LH

Joshua Peacock said...

I've noticed that using all caps in an old person thing too. I think it's because they're too old to notice the problem and fix it lol.

ryan field said...

I've seen this quotation thing for a long time. I never noticed whether or not it was generational.

Mira said...

Hmm. Can I just add a comment? I think in a discussion like this there's a danger of young and old 'dissing each other.

Let's not.

Things that are generational tend to be related to the culture of the times, not the pros and cons of young vs. old.

Both youth and experience have qualities to recommend them.

Nathan Bransford said...

mira-

Yeah, I'm kind of surprised some people are taking such offense. I'm not saying "everyone" (ha) over 50 does this or even most people, just that from what I've seen it's more common.

It's "okay" people over 50. There are "plenty" of grammar errors to go around.

Mira said...

Nathan -

Yes, I think it's an interesting discussion! Do different generations tend to make different types of grammatical errors? I thought some people had some really interesting points. I liked Marilyn's points alot, and thought what she said about the typewriter was interesting.

I remember typewriters. I remember carbon paper and liquid ink. Instruments of the dark side, they all were. Much more constricting than computers - well, there's no comparison. :)

Kim Rossi Stagliano said...

"Laser."

Brian Crawford said...

nathan @5:29 -

So "that's" how you post awesomeness every day, without fail: you lock yourself in a cave and write a bunch of posts in a row -- and then schedule them to publish each morning.

SharonK said...

The best "quotation marks" are the ones you make with two fingers curved in on each hand, holding them up on either side of your head as you are talking.

"Love" the use of these. Especially by guys I am "dating"

marye.ulrich said...

I blame the nuns! (We boomers abuse exclamation points too!!!)

I remember being afraid I would plagiarize someone unintentionally and God would send me to "Hell."

So I figured if I put quotes on everything, I would be innocent, escape eternal damnation and therefore only have to pass through Purgatory, like St. Theresa. So, hell or quotation marks?

"God," no wonder we are freakin' "nuts"!!!!!

Steph Damore said...

I'm with Rick on this one:

Therefore I don't think it's "incorrect" it's just "annoying."

That was my first thought - "how annoying!" - but as I read through the comments, such as Sandra's 84 year old grandma, I understand why some people choose to use quotation marks as emphasis. I'm just not one of them.

Justine Hedman said...

All right, I can't help it. I'll crawl out of my hole for a second day in a row...

To the youth out there(I'm considered one) grammer is def becoming a once upon a time thing. I see younger writers making more mistakes with grammer. I think it has to do with not needing to know grammer as well as the older generations thanks to grammer/spell check.

I do think that the older generations, probably older than 50,do use quotations for emphasis because they didn't have italics and bold print on computers. They used a pen, so quotes probably carried a different meaning. My Great Grandmother use to do it, and my father's mother does it. But these were women who never really used computers.

So my vote is, that it is generational and something that people who never really used a compture would tend to do more often. And for the younger people out there silly enough to make this mistake (yes, its a mistake and a highly annoying one if you're asking my opinion.) probably picked it up from their grandparents or parents.

Anyway, have fun with this conversation!!

Justine

Steph Damore said...

Mira - your comment about typewriters and liquid ink remind me of how lucky us writers are today. Yay MS Word!!!

J.J. Bennett said...

Steph,

I've been thinking that too. Seriously...I don't think I would've attempted any of this if I didn't have it. God bless my MS Word program!

Jay said...

I always thought it "came from a Chris Farley Skit" on "Saturday Night Live." ;)

crow productions said...

Yes. It was Chris Farley. "Math problem"
"Emphasis" = actually + really + irreguardless. Over fifty, taught by the sisters.

Rhyanna said...

well i have to admit that i use quotation marks only when the character is speaking, this way it keeps it sort of separate from the rest of the work.
I use itallics to stress a word.
Although not yet 50... I have never been taught to use quotation marks the way you have described them. Maybe its due to the fact that if hand printing, there is no other way to "highlight" the stressed point.
my "quarter's worth" due to inflation and no income. lol
Rhyanna

--Deb said...

I try never to use quotation marks for emphasis, and don't think that I ever do at all (though I won't guarantee that it's never happened). For "real" writing (those were air quotes, by the way), I use italics to emphasize. For casual writing, like blog comments, tweets, emails to friends, I use CAPS quite often. And, of course, for things where you can't do proper italics--like some blog comments that don't allow HTML tags--I'll use something like *asterisks*, a habit which I picked up from message boards.

My aunt, though? Who's around 80? She misuses quotation marks ALL the time, it drives me mad.

J. Jones said...

I have no explanation as to how unnecessary quotation marks originated, but I do have a favorite.

A building in nearby Pawtucket, Rhode Island - a building of what purpose I have no idea - has a marquis on it that for the past two years has had this message:

Room for "rent"

This is followed with a phone number.

The first time, and every time since, I have laughed as I drove past. This past weekend, my wife noticed that the quotation marks had been removed, so someone must have told them how silly it looked.

A small part of me died that day.

e_journeys said...

Great site. Those photos go well with the ones at National Punctuation Day.

I am of the generation of manual typewriters, carbon paper, liquid ink, and hectographs (which made mimeographs look high-tech). One emphasized by underlining, which meant pulling a lever and repositioning the typewriter platen to the beginning of the text to be underlined. One could also press the Backspace key repeatedly.

(The Backspace key also let me type an exclamation point, which some manual typewriters didn't have. Type a period, backspace, and type an apostrophe above the period.)

Nowadays, if I can't italicize, underline (alas, I can't use underline tags here), or boldface for emphasis, I use asterisks to set a word or phrase *apart* in informal usage. Or I'll do a faux underline, like _this_.

For the whippersnappers out there, a hectograph consisted of a pan into which one poured a gelatinous substance that held an ink impression. One typed a master copy onto special paper that held the ink and then pressed the sheet onto the gel, which transferred the impression in reverse. One then pressed a sheet of regular bond onto the reversed image to create non-reversed text. The ink lasted through several copies.

My mother had been a high school English teacher. She used a hectograph at home to produce exams in the early 60s, turning our dinette table into an assembly line of sorts.

Rachel said...

Is anyone still reading comments? I have to add my opinion, I guess, even if you're not!

Yes, I agree with the commenter who said, "Aaaaaaaaagh!" It's like fingernails on a chalkboard when I see blatant misuse of quotation marks. Even in conversation, when someone uses their hands to add them!!

I am a fan, however, of the misuse of capitalization. This was common in all the Winnie the Pooh books, but I was reminded of it tonight when I read to my son "Blueberries for Sal". (I think the period goes after that quotation mark, as the quotes are there to indicate a title, not an actual quote. Am I right? I'm pretty picky, so I think I'm right.) Anyhow, Little Bear ate a Tremendous Mouthful of blueberries from Little Sal's mother's bucket.

I like that. Does that work for you?

Rachel said...

Oh, but not To Excess, of course.

terripatrick said...

Had to share this one, it was reader comment posted on Dick Cavett's latest article. :)

# 64. September 12, 2009 8:50 am Link

A “victim” of innumeracy? Maybe, like me, you indulge it. (I hear there’s a cure.)
— Tom Dolan

What could this possibly mean?!?!?

Anonymous said...

T-shirts are always right:

http://www.zazzle.com/unnecessary_quote_tee_tshirt-235417828717947309

T. Anne said...

I prefer "italics" myself.

Vacuumqueen said...

Random quotes don't bug me in casual emails and whatnot. I like to use them for snarky, wink-wink thoughts to friends. You know....Nice "hair" that guy was sporting, what's with the combover??? Stuff like that. Italics are lame...way too proper or something.

And personally...I like to throw in my "..." everywhere just to drive people crazy that I never end a sentence...you know, as if my mind never stops...which it never does....especially on email comments! Har har.

If we're going to nit pick about grammar, I actually am most perturbed about the "me vs. I" thing, the "their, there, they're" and especially....."your the greatest!" ACK!

It's all a mess, and most of it is fine via the email world and blog world. The publishing world....not so much.

Whirlochre said...

I'm no big fan of quotation marks being used in this way. I think it looks ugly. And in the internet age, we have italics. Probably even worse, I know, but there you go. Sometimes I'll use single quotation marks for 'real' effect. bad example.

But you're right — this is definitely an older person thing, from the days when you almost had to apologise for being witty/rude/"whatever" — covering your tracks with the conventions of formality.

Ashley said...

I was in Japan and saw a little hole in the wall place to eat that said:
Americans "welcome" here. I wondered if there was a small gang of yakuza inside waiting to kill tourists.

jenniferann27 said...

Hey maybe they're right. Maybe they
"Walked up hill both way's in 5 feet of snow" and I just strolled in a northernly fashion in a particulary plush blanket of fresh snow.

Lilit Hotham said...

http://lilithotham.blogspot.com/

MS Word is watching!! LOL just for you, Nathan!

Ellen Brickley said...

I detest quotation marks for emphasis.

Although once, in college, a few friends and I were playing 'If I were a punctuation mark, what would I be?' and we concluded that one friend would definitely be quotation marks for emphasis. You'd have to know him, but it fitted perfectly, so for that reason if no other, I am glad this punctuation abberation existed at one point.

Time for it to die, though.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nathan,

could you please blog sometime about the proliferation of unnecessary commas? They´re everywhere! Maybe it´s because nowadays our info-swamped brains can only deal with little nibbles of sentences at a time.
One of the reasons I enjoy your blog is because you haven´t succumbed to this disease, so maybe you´re the person to adress it.

masonian said...

I'll admit it: I've used many unecessary quotation marks. And while the older generation (almost used "" there!) may have picked up the habit, as Catharine suggested, through pen and paper/typwriter emphasis limitations--I believe the newer generations were firmly entrenched in militant quotational dynamism through that fount of high literacy: Mike Meyers' Austin Powers movies.
Yes, if you ever saw those movies you know what scenes I refer too, and you too must acknowledge that I can "rest my case".
bwahahahahaha!

Tim Bosworth said...

I think you make an "excellent" point. :-)

Firefly said...

Okay -- not to make this more complicated -- but I will. Think about how people use quotation marks in verbal language. Either with the double finger wag when they emphasize -- or when they say, "quote un-quote."

Terry said...

The blog on "Unnecessary" quotations was funny.

I've never seen this habit in my family or much at all.

But I do like my exclamation points. They were verboten in hard news. Forbidden fruit is sweet!!!!

Although I use there's all the time. Is that really wrong?

Richmond Writer said...

It must be subconscious. I use quotation marks a lot and then when I reread my draft pull them out because it irritates me. This is then followed by the decision whether something is important enough to italicize. It rarely is.

The Victorians capitalized words they wanted to emphasize. Queen Victoria's diary is rife with capitals.

Thermocline said...

Seeing written quotation marks or air quotes used for emphasis doesn't drive me nearly as crazy as hearing Quote and Unquote.

"My dachshund said, quote, 'I'm six inches tall, not seven' unquote."

Using "said" before a direct quote pretty much defines whatever is about to follow as a direct quote.

Anonymous said...

I always thought the accepted style for emphasis is to use italics?
I prefer this over “quotation marks”.

Anonymous said...

Got me. I'm "over" fifty and don't recall using quotations for emphasis. I'm more of an "italics" kinda guy to denote emphasis...usually when my characters are "YELLING!"

Bee Hylinski said...

A someone on the shady side of 60, I can tell you that I have never heard of such a use of quotation marks. Maybe it came in with the hippies in the 60's, but we were taught that quotation marks were used for--well--quotes. In my opinion, when I see a non-quote in quotes, it means that the word means the opposite of what it says, so that "fresh" ingredients, means they are previously-frozen, freeze-dried, or just plain old.

Robena Grant said...

I'm one of the over fifty crowd and hate the use of quotes, especially air quotes they just make the speaker look and sound dorky. What I apparently have a problem with is ellipses.
Fifteen years ago I accompanied a small group of high school students on a trip to Australia (two kids were mine) and I wrote and printed out the itinerary. It started with, Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean...
Hey, I thought it was cute. : ) To this day whenever any of the group are together one will always say, "Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, dot, dot, dot." Then they'll crack up. I'm not sure what that all means...

Daniel Allen said...

Interesting question Nathan. I don't think I've ever used quotes to denote emphasis before. I could see using quotes to indicate a descriptor that is someone's opinion.

For example: the thrift store employee showed my wife a pair of bright orange shoes that she swore were "like new".

But see, used in that sense, it's almost like a quote...not really for emphasis.

While we're on the topic of bad habits, I feel it's the perfect time to admit to you and the world that I tend to use commas, elipses and hyphens like they're going out of style.

I think we all try to convey pauses and emphasis through words so the reader will hear the story as though we're speaking it.

But, in the end, we...probably only make the--otherwise simple--text, much, more...difficult to read. ;-)

Ulysses said...

"Quotation marks?"
for "emphasis?"
Never

(Point being: there are so many other ways to emphasize something (two used above)).

mkcbunny said...

This was a hilarious thread. I've most frequently seen improper quotes on signage. Stores doing things like putting "Apples" in quotes for a sale. It always makes me laugh.

Now I have a week's worth of Nathan's posts to catch up on after vacation.

Jim said...

I believe it all goes back to the days of pens and pencils and their inability to jot proper italics.

I believe as a tot I was taught to put the names of magazine articles and short stories in quotes (Novels and other book titles underlined.

But no one writes on loose leaf anymore, and quotes have even gone out of style when, well, quoting someone. See Saramago.

So no more quotes - ever. Unless you're writing a post-WWII through the 1980s period piece. Then the whole book should really be in quotes. Just for nostalgia's sake.

Anonymous said...

"WOW" pass the prozac. There are way too many other things to worry about than the differences in writing techniques.

We all just need to agree that our differences need to be celebrated, because it would be a boring world if we all wrote alike.

As someone pointed out, 'Wikepedia' says it is not wrong.

I seriously doubt this subject would ever cross the average reader's mind. Writers tend to notice grammar, readers tend to just notice the story.

(Please tell me there are no grammar errors in my post.)

Nathan Bransford said...

Actually Wikipedia says it "is" wrong.

kathrynjankowski said...

Nathan,
I don't recall ever learning or teaching the use of quotation marks for emphasis, but this reminds me of a 4th grade grammar lesson I taught at a school where every teacher was observed and evaluated on a weekly basis.

My lesson, on parentheses, was going quite well, I thought. The students were engaged. The evaluator was smiling.

Every lesson ends with a final check of understanding. You have to make sure the students actually learned something, right?

Me: “So, what do we call this type of punctuation?”

The class, in hearty unison: “Quotation marks!”

Anonymous said...

"Either quotation marks or italic type can emphasize that an instance of a word refers to the word itself rather than its associated concept.

either of a pair of punctuation marks, either in double (" ") or single (' ') form, used around direct speech, quotations, and titles, or to give special emphasis to a word or phrase"

I must have missed something then.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

You are missing something: you're reading the wrong section. That refers to a specific case where you're referring to the word itself instead of the concept that the word means.

Here's the section on emphasis:

"Emphasis (incorrect usage)

Quotes are sometimes used incorrectly for emphasis in lieu of underlining or italics, most commonly on signs or placards. This usage can be confused with ironic or altered-usage quotation, sometimes with unintended humor. For example, For sale: “fresh” fish, “fresh” oysters, could be construed to imply that fresh is not used with its everyday meaning, or indeed to indicate that the fish or oysters are anything but fresh. And again, Teller lines open until noon for your “convenience” might mean that the convenience was for the bank employees, not the customers."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quotation_mark#Emphasis_.28incorrect_usage.29

Anonymous said...

Nathan,

I think you and I were responding to two different situations. Several of the bloggers are talking about just for emphasis, not just signs.

Nathan Bransford said...

Sheesh, anon, it doesn't just go for signs.

Ink said...

Anon,

The people writing the signs were trying to use the marks for emphasis, but it doesn't work because they imply an ironic understanding of the word. So, rather than emphasizing the word they're actually undercutting its meaning through the use of irony.

I had "fun" at the party.

This is not emphasis, this is a wry statement hinting that I didn't have fun at all.

PurpleClover said...

I had a friend my age that did this (29 for the record) and I sat staring at her email trying to figure out why she was being sarcastic when the situation didn't call for it. It took me a good fifteen minutes to realize she should have bolded or at least CAPITALIZED for me to understand her.

Using quotation marks incorrectly can strain a relationship. For instance, in Ryan's comment, his mom used quotes on "Love,"...I think I would be offended. :D

If I use quotations, I'm almost always being sarcastic. But sometimes, just "sometimes", I'm actually quoting someone. ;)

Jenn

Anonymous said...

I guees that is why it is good to read blogs to learn things, because when I read Encarta I didn't get it.

This is their description. "either of a pair of punctuation marks, either in double (" ") or single (' ') form, used around direct speech, quotations, and titles, or to give special emphasis to a word or phrase"

I have seen something along the lines - We are "not" going to the party. -to stress the word not, and it never even crossed my mind it was wrong.

Ink said...

Yup, anon, that's it. Of course, that line is only wrong if they really aren't going to the party... if they're saying they aren't but hinting ironically they really are, then the punctuation is right.

Oh the illogic of language. Maybe we should all just learn Elvish or something. I'm sure Tolkien did it better.

Marilyn Peake said...

Can anyone tell me what asterisks/stars (*) around a word means? I see this a lot on the Internet...or *Internet*. Are the asterisks surrounding a word actually misplaced quotation marks, used for emphasis?

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ink,

It was very kind of you not to get frustrated with me. Notice I didn't use quotation marks.

Ink said...

Lol, anon. That was funny.

Anonymous said...

HaH, Brian, you were serious, no quotation marks! Right? : )

Ink said...

Lol (again)

- no quotation marks ;)

Anonymous said...

This blog discussion should be retitled:

Quotation Confusion!

(For years I avoided writing dialogue because of the quotation confusion.)

It is no wonder so many of us feel so pleased as punch when we learn how to do a writing thing right.

From the story to the sentence structure we travel a long and twisting road. Not all the maps we were given seem to be describing the same route either.

It is so cool that so many of us can laugh at ourselves over this!

Ink said...

Marilyn,

I usually see the * for emphasis or to set something apart, as in to denote actions or something. Such as:

I love *cough cough* Michael Bolton.

So it's a way to handle two different levels of communication at the same time. But that's just my subjective understanding of it from time spent cyber-cruising. And since I'm a techno-rube you might not want to trust me...

Bryan

Marilyn Peake said...

Thanks, Bryan. I appreciate all attempts to interpret the use of *. I used to think it was the computer misreading some other symbol.

Anonymous said...

On the "internet" quotes are used in searches to "drill down" a search category. Using for emphasis. NEVER, "never" never.

Anonymous said...

I definitely need to be updated. Actually, I probably never learned correct use anyway. I typically tuned the nuns out. Asterisks? I wonder what else I don't know. Can we have a commonly misused or unknown use blog discussion?

TLAstle said...

A "blog" dedicated soley to "Unnecessary" quotation marks? Who'd have thought?

Anonymous said...

This is "like" the third posting in which I have found myself wondering if Nathan were being discriminatory towards older persons.

At first, I thought it was my imagination, but now, I am really beginning to wonder.

In my experience, the real offenders who overuse quotation marks have been teenagers, who are trying to stress something, or “snarky” adults.

I mean, really, Nathan, even if your observation is unbiased, is it necessary to point out age groups to broach a subject or a pet peeve? Why risk giving the wrong impression? Specifically, why did you feel it was necessary to “brand” the over fifty crowd as the offenders? What was the point of that?

I’ve noticed this “oddity” before and I’ve “let it ride”, but really, I feel compelled to ask: “why do you make it about age”? I think the overuse of quotation marks crosses all age groups.

For the record: I am not over fifty. In fact, I'm not "that much" older than you.

Nathan Bransford said...

Yes, you "got" me. I "hate" old people. "Hate" them, including my "parents," my older "colleagues" and everyone in the "AARP."

Well "spotted," anon.

Malia Sutton said...

Interesting discussion.

I just ignore this one because it doesn't usually happen in speech. And, I think, it's forgiveable for a variety of reasons. Unless, of course, the person doing it is querying an agent. Writers should know better.

What really bothers me are some of the huge grammatical errors I hear in speech on a daily basis (I myself..me and my friend). All you have to do it watch a reality show like "Big Brother" and the mistakes just flow from the mouths of people who think they know it all. And, unfortunately, they come from my generation, usually from people under thirty.

What are they teaching in grade schools these days during English class?

Anonymous said...

See? You're both stressing a point and being snarky, and you're nowhere near fifty.

Nathan Bransford said...

And it "wasn't" even on "purpose." Nope. "Not at all."

Elizabeth said...

Well, I'm under 30, and I have a degree in education. I can tell you that there is not much grammar instruction in schools these days.

In fact, most teachers are as confused about the rules of grammar as their students are. Heck, I was never taught grammar until college... It is a scary, scary world out there!

I'm trying to start a sentence diagramming revolution. If you want to join me, see my site. (English Grammar Revolution)

:) Elizabeth

http://www.english-grammar-revolution.com

Anonymous said...

Can anyone tell me what is proper to show someone stops talking mid-sentence?

Ink said...

Anon 1:27,

If they trail off... (ellipses works)

If they stop abruptly- (a dash usually does the trick)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Bryan "Ink", that's what I had been doing, but after todays discussion I wasn't sure if that was the correct way to do it.

You're a really sweet and knowledgable guy.

Anonymous said...

Nathan,

How do you know how old your query writers are? I've never put my age in a letter. Do others?

Anonymous said...

Crap, I spelled Knowledgeable wrong!

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

It's often clear from the bio. I don't recommend saying your exact age in a query, but I have a sense of the author's age in at least half of the queries I get.

And in all honest, I don't think this is me being ageist or something. It's just something I've noticed. As others mentioned, young people have their own set of grammar/punctuation issues and are much more likely to mess up it's/its.

Anonymous said...

Nathan,

I'm not the same ANON that asked you that. I think there are at least three ANONS here. I just wondered about the age, because I've never included that and wondered if I was doing something wrong.

Anonymous said...

There could be dozens of different anons or more at any given time.
We really are not all the same anon.

Dorothy L. Abrams said...

Nope, there was no golden age of quotations that I remember. I am an old hippie chick from the 60s who taught English. None of my commrades use random quotation marks for emphasis. Underscores, yes! Exclamation marks? Too often. But not quotation marks. I understood quotation marks placed around words not part of dialog indicated irony. In your example of "fresh" mozarella cheese, I think the quotations marks mean "not so fresh".

Beth F said...

I can't possibly read 182 comments so I have no idea if I'm simply repeating information, but quotation marks are not needed for obvious irony or euphemism. In fact, quotation marks are rarely needed, except to indicate direct quotes and certain types of titles (chapters, short stories, songs, short poems, episode titles, journal articles).

I'm not sure why people don't understand quotation marks, but it is not just bloggers who have trouble. Most manuscripts that cross my desk are in serious need of a quotation mark diet.

I find absolutely no age difference.

Anonymous said...

You continue to inform and educate in a most generous and accessible manner. Have only recently joined this blog and am blown away by your efforts

Diana said...

Heh, I only use quotation marks for emphasis on blogs and forums, because I am to lazy too highlight the text and click the "i" icon or insert the html code for italics. And that points out the other use of quotation marks to make it clear that I am speaking about a specific symbol or operation. If I were doing it properly, it would read: click the i icon ...

I've never seen it used as other's have mentioned.

Firefly said...

It had certainly been interesting following this thread. I am now so "unsure" of myself I can't write anything without looking it up. Nathan-- let's discuss em-dashes next! "Just for fun."

Kate H said...

Quotation marks for emphasis have never been correct. I'm old enough to be your mother, Nathan, I'm a copyeditor, and I know. What I don't know is how that ridiculous usage got started. Nor can I explain why people use apostrophes for plurals--also commonly seen in grocery store signs.

And finally, before I get off my high horse, where did people get the idea that an objective pronoun becomes subjective if it's part of a compound object (e.g. "She taught my friend and I how to use quotation marks properly")? No one would ever say "She taught I," so why say "She taught my friend and I"? Grammar is just logic, people.

Bethany Brengan said...

I know I'm a little late in the game here, but I have a (completely untested) theory about the quotation-marks/generational-debate.

As an editor, I've seen quotation marks misused by people of various ages, but when I see them misused by people over 50 or so, it tends to be a very specific type of "error." ;-)

Quotation marks are (correctly) used to denote slang terms that the reader may not be familiar with. (See http://www1.umn.edu/urelate/style/italics.html or Chicago Manual of Style 7.60). However, some writers have fallen into the habit of using quotation marks around any slang term, even those that are common knowledge, almost as a way of saying, "I want you to know that I know this isn't quite formal/proper English." Thus the quote marks around "Mom" (because it's not mother) and possibly the quote marks around "Love" (because it's not Sincerely?). Eventually, anything that's slightly informal/intimate gets quote marks ("thanks" vs. thank-you, "TV" vs. television, "fridge" vs. refrigerator etc.).

Younger writers don't seem to differentiate between formal and informal English, so they aren't as likely to put quote marks around slang phrases. (This certainly doesn't keep them from misusing quotation marks; they simply seem more likely to use them for incorrect emphasis than for common slang/informal phrases.)

I admit that this doesn't cover all the quotation mark errors of everyone's mother/grandmother (or unmentioned-male-card-writing-relative), but it's a start. Thoughts?

John said...

"Yes"

dt said...

As someone over the age of 50, I have to say I resent the implication that I am more prone to misuse quotation marks.

In the olden days, I had a wonderful teacher who explained the proper use of this punctuations thusly: What does the newspaper headline 'Mayor Leaves Hotel with "Wife"' say to you? Use your quotation marks accordingly.

I never forgot that lesson.

Genella deGrey said...

Within a piece of literary art, I think things shouldn't stray from current grammar rules.

But in a *darling* little blog such as this and during _friendly_ repartee, "anything" goes.

:)
G.

Aimee said...

Whenever I see quotations, it makes me think they are being sarcastic.

James K. said...

On the other hand...can anyone tell me whether quotation marks are correctly used if quoting a sign? [The sign warned: "No Trespassing. Violators will be shot."]

wgflorin said...

I'm delighted to have found your blog when I was actually searching the use of asterisks around words on twitter. Although I never learned the meaning of asterisks on twitter (emphasis?), I loved reading the misuses of quotations and the comments posted by your readers. I actually emailed Sandra D. Coburn who wrote that her mother sent her greeting cards and underlined (or double underlined) text. My 94-yo mom died last year and I miss every one of her underlined greeting cards.

Anonymous said...

Using question marks to introduce a technical phrase is one that always confuses me as I see it written this way a lot: e.c. "The 'ironic' quotation is often used to call attention to a word that is shocking or taboo in normal speech." The most confusing part is when the quotation is at the end of the sentence and the writer places the period after the quotation, as in this example: "Many people are now beginning to realize that 'natural capital' is as important to their livelihoods as 'fiscal capital'." Logically that seems correct but "American Standard" English would place the period inside the quotation no matter what because of convention. So the last part of the sentance would look as such, "..livelihoods as 'fiscal capital.'" I tend to think more logically so when I introduce a new term that isn't a direct quotation,I do it the former way.

Anonymous said...

Using question marks to introduce a technical phrase is one that always confuses me, as I see it written this way a lot: "The 'ironic' quotation is often used to call attention to a word that is shocking or taboo in normal speech." The most confusing part is when the quotation is at the end of the sentence and the writer places the period after the quotation, as in this example: "Many people are now beginning to realize that 'natural capital' is as important to their livelihoods as 'fiscal capital'." Logically that seems correct but "American Standard" English would place the period inside the quotation no matter what, because of convention. So the last part of the sentance would look like so: "..livelihoods as 'fiscal capital.'" I tend to think more logically, so when I introduce a new term that isn't a direct quotation,I do it the former way.

Laura Simms said...

CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE, 15th Ed., 7.61, p. 294, has ruled on this:
"Terms considered slang or argot should be enclosed in quotation marks only if they are foreign to the normal vocabulary of the writer or likely to be unfamiliar to readers."

I loved your note that this problem occurs in people over 50 and Ryan Smith's description of his mother's notes. Electrical engineers, Ryan's mom, and people over 50 are the problem. I am over 50, but I know better! Thanks for exposing this criminal activity.

David Ripplinger said...

@Vegas Linda Lou - You're correct that the widely accepted use of commas and quotations in the U.S. is to put the comma before the closing quotation mark, but keep in mind that other cultures have different widely accepted customs.

Moreover, once the rule is understood, it is understandable for people to argue for a change in our culture's communication customs if the change has some logical reasoning backing it. One could argue for the comma outside the quotations because the quoter and not the quotee is using the comma for structure. When coming from the background of mathematics and computer programming, such an approach makes perfect sense when compared to encapsulation objects, such as parentheses and brackets.

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