(For this fun rant, I’m only talking about double quotation marks, not single.)
(Also, this is all in good fun. Don’t take it too seriously.)
However, I’ve noticed lately that there seems to be an uptick in abuse with another punctuation mark…
Good grief, you guys. The misuse of quotation marks is EVERYWHERE.
I think this pet peeve sticks out more to me because the misuse seems to happen most often on signage/notices… and signage is everywhere.
Your guess is as good as mine as to why this punctuation issue most always happens on signs, but there ya go.
So I had to get this misuse and abuse of quotation marks off my chest. And what better place to do it than here on the blog where I know my fellow word nerds can commiserate with me 🙂
Let’s First Review The Correct Use Of Quotation Marks
Before I begin my rant, let’s briefly go over a few ways to use quotation marks correctly.
Quotation marks for dialogue
Quotation marks are used to signal that someone is speaking.
“Library books are not to be taken outside the school,” said Snape.
“He’s just made that rule up,” Harry muttered angrily as Snape limped away. “Wonder what’s wrong with his leg?”
“Dunno, but I hope it’s really hurting him,” said Ron bitterly.
(From Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)
Pretty straightforward, right? Surround the text of someone speaking with quotation marks.
Quotation marks for titles of works
Use quotation marks for titles of songs, short stories, short poems, magazine or newspaper articles, and chapter titles.
One of my favorite songs is “Callin’ Baton Rouge” by Garth Brooks.
Have you read the poem “Love After Love” by Derek Walcott?
Again, pretty straightforward.
Quotation marks as scare quotes
This one gets slightly trickier. Here’s what The Chicago Manual of Style states in Rule 7.57:
Quotation marks are often used to alert readers that a term is used in a nonstandard (or slang), ironic, or other special sense. Such scare quotes 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.
(That last line is my favorite!)
So let’s see some examples of when quotation marks are used correctly to illustrate CMOS’s point.
The “elegant” house had dirt floors, holes in the walls, and no roof.
See why elegant is in quotes? The house is clearly not elegant, and the author used quotation marks to highlight the sarcasm.
The “anti-nausea” medicine made me throw up.
The medicine clearly didn’t have the intended effect…
Let’s do one more!
My “best friend” told all my dark secrets to the world.
A real best friend would obviously never do that, hence the scare quotes.
Now For The Fun Part… Quotation Marks Gone Wrong
Now that we’ve covered the basics of proper quotation mark usage, let’s get into the meat of my rant. Buckle in, folks!
Can you guess one of the most common misuses of quotation marks? It’s not with dialogue or saying something sarcastically.
Quotation marks are often incorrectly used for emphasis.
And that is just plain wrong. Do NOT use quotation marks for emphasis.
Let me repeat that.
DO NOT USE QUOTATION MARKS FOR EMPHASIS.
There are other tools we can use for emphasis. Try bolding, italicizing, using a different font/size/color, all caps (like what I did above), or basically anything except quotation marks. Using quotation marks for emphasis casts doubt on what is being said.
What do I mean by that? Well, here are a couple epically wrong (yet hilariously funny) examples of when quotation marks were used to emphasize (via 11 Points):
How Do I Know If I Should Use Quotation Marks?
Please, folks. If you find yourself making a sign and you aren’t sure if you should use quotation marks, check yo’self.
And I have an easy and fun way to do that. Say your sentence out loud, and make the air-quote gesture when you say the word you think should be surrounded by quote marks.
(If you don’t know what air quotes are, the following gif illustrates them perfectly :-))
Practice with me! Say this sentence out loud, and put air quotes around the word fresh (just like Chris Farley above).
I have a craving for some “fresh” sushi.
Did you hear it? By using quotes around fresh, it sounds like you’re being sarcastic… like you prefer old, smelly sushi instead of truly fresh sushi. And nobody wants old, smelly sushi…
Let’s try one more out loud. And I bet you’ve all seen this one a million times before…
Employees must “wash hands” before returning to work.
Say what?! Tell me you heard it when you put air quotes around wash hands?? Are employees supposed to only pretend to wash their hands? ::gags::
Try Not To Laugh Too Hard
I leave with a few more examples of quotation marks gone wrong for your viewing pleasure (via unnecessaryquotes.com):
Did you have as much fun reading this as I did writing it? I knew you guys would understand my punctuation exasperation 😉
Now I want to hear from you! What’s your favorite example of misused quotation marks? Share it with me in the comments!