Posted by: Jack Henry | November 30, 2016

Editor’s Corner: Crazy Quotation Marks

The other day, we went to breakfast at Café 222 to take advantage of the season and get a pumpkin waffle…delicious! While I was standing by the door, I noticed this sign and started to laugh:

We’ve talked about the overuse of quotation marks before, but I don’t think I could’ve created an example this perfect if I’d tried. This sign uses quotation marks to emphasize these phrases, but the result is that it makes the phrases stand out as something suspicious. Quotation marks are often (correctly) used to indicate a non-standard use of words or a phrase, or to call attention to an unfamiliar concept. The use of quotation marks here makes us wonder what they actually mean by “friendly servers” or what strange definition they have for “keep(ing) your coffee cup full.”

Here is some good information about when to use quotation marks and when not to, from Writing for Business and Pleasure:

Use quotation marks to:

1. Mark direct quotations, as in He said, “Try your best.” (Note that the first word of the quote begins with a capital letter.)

2. Mark titles of shorter works, such as articles, poems, and chapters. (Use italics or underlining for titles of longer works, such as books, plays, and films.)

3. Call attention to a word, phrase, or concept that is unfamiliar to the reader or that is used in a nonstandard way, as in Based on empathy rather than confrontation, “Rogerian persuasion” offers an alternative to classical argumentation.

4. Call attention to a nontechnical term used in a technical sense, as in Deconstructionism explores the meaning of the “signs” of language.

Do not use quotation marks to:

1. Mark indirect quotations or paraphrases, as in Our boss said that we should persevere. (But Our boss said, “Never say die!”)

Note that no comma is used to mark a paraphrase after the word that.

2. Mark a cliché, proverbial saying, or other overused expression, as in “Quality control” is our strength, or We need to do “our very best.”

Sometimes called “winking,” this last example reflects a tendency for writers to disown or apologize for worn-out language. Although the quotation marks are intended to convey “I know this is lazy wording I could have done better, but I didn’t have time,” in reality they tell the reader “If you were more important, I would have taken time to find more appropriate wording but you aren’t, and I didn’t.”

If you are going to use a familiar word or expression, do so without apology.

3. Emphasize a particular word or phrase. Instead, use italics, as in “I am absolutely certain.”

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

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