Don’t Quote Me   Leave a comment


One of the greater evils of English punctuation is manifested in those self-important couplets of floating commas known as “quotation marks”. They are abominable. My loyalty to proper grammar is, at a minimum, obsessive, so I find myself forced to use these curled monstrosities.

Quotation marks are aesthetically displeasing, incompetent in their intended function, and an overall nuisance. Are these eye sores really necessary? I don’t think commas should get to be cows that jumped over the moon. And I say commas, plural, because they come in pairs, which is stupid in English. I do not speak a language of reduplication, “w” has three double things in it and is triple stupid.

One of the most awful and non-literary evils of the quotation mark is the way its double floating grotesqueness can be approximated by the index and middle fingers. The “quotation marks gesture” is worse than the printed version. Firstly, the quotation mark was used to designate a chunk of printed words as speech. You do not need to designate speech while speaking, it’s a given.

But people don’t use quote gesturing to indicate that they are speaking, they use the gesture somewheres know as “sarcastiquotes”. Flipping me off is a less offensive and less annoying hand gesture. Tone, voice inflection, and facial expression are sufficient to convey sarcasm without the use of your first two fingers. This gesture is never necessary, it’s ten times worse than bringing your own small package of low-grade peanuts on an airplane.

Spoken quotation marks do not fare much better. While not as profoundly offensive as gestured quotation marks, “quote, unquote” anything is a horrible saying. Once again, extra-linguistic cues can be used to indicate borrowed or suspect vocabulary. “So-called” or “labeled by some as” are more than adequate replacements if you absolutely need to use words to set up your borrowed phrase. There are better ways to address an opponent’s peculiar naming choices.

By far, gestured quotes are the worst type, and spoken quotes bother me, too, but I encounter and am myself forced to use text quotes the most often. I think they’re unsightly, to a large degree unnecessary, and altogether unpleasant. They are probably my least favorite punctuation, worse than the tilde. I’d like to, and often will forego their use in any context. I must stress that using quotation marks for comic effects is not something I find funny. It meets none of the criteria for humor; it’s not creative, unexpected, clever, absurd, or sorrowful. Use quotation marks as little as possible like they’re above fats, oils, and sweets on the food pyramid. I appreciate it.

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Posted February 23, 2010 by Wada in Linguistics

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