Friday, January 26, 2007

You can quote me on that.

A note about quotation marks:

You may have noticed that my last post used what I like to think of as a plethora of quotation marks.

If one is trying to emphasize a particular word for ironic or comic effect, they will often put quotes around it. This is a way to indicate that writer realizes that the word is not being used in its accepted sense.

An example: The "discussion" about the benefits of icecream over coffee had escalated to fisticuffs. (I love the word fisticuffs. It's so prissy.)

These ironic quotes can also be called scare, sneer, shock, or distance quotes (my favorite is sneer).

Here was my issue:

When you are not quoting a sentence but only a word, why must the period go inside the quotation marks?
The period goes "here."
It does not go "here".
I didn't like it. It didn't make sense.

Now I could picture a conversation in my future, when some little doe-eyed worshipper like a daughter or a nephew or a youth group kid will approach me with this self-same question.

I felt ill-equipped.

"I'm sorry daughter/nephew/teen scholar, I do not know the answer to your question. I think that you should give up the English language and all her foibles altogether and focus more on mathematics and Mandarin."

Okay, to make a long story short (too late), I looked it up and experienced a change of heart.

As they relate to American English, periods and commas always, always, always go inside the quotation marks. This dates back to the typesetting days and has something to do with quotes being the most fragile part of the typesetting process and having to set them a certain way so they wouldn't get bent...etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

The British have long abandoned this antiquated tradition for something a little more "logical".

But we have not.

So really, I think it all boils down to patriotism.

I think that as long as we resist putting vinegar on our french fries, driving on the left, and drinking lukewarm water we must not waiver in our determination to keep the commas and periods on the inside!

"The End."

Disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with exclamation or question marks. Those are a different beast altogether.

5 comments:

Holly said...

I think you're being a "little" severe here, Jess. I mean, "seriously". No, I mean "seriously." It makes only perfect sense to me to retain the period or comma outside aforementioned "quotation marks", and so am I anti-America if I insist on continuing? I "promise" to resist all other appearances of British-ism. That is, except keeping my bad teeth and drinking my "tea" at the appointed times. Those I could never "abandon". Oh, alright. "Abandon." I give in.

Daylan said...

jessi, you're my favorite. i miss guatemala too. well, if i had ever been there, i'm sure i would miss it. but i "miss" you more...

Flower said...

I really wanted to write, "Way to Go Kevin!"...but I don't know how to use exclamation marks within quotes! And "Way to Go Kevin." just wouldn't cut it.

What do I do?

jessi said...

That's a good question, Ken. In this particular case, I would put the exlamation mark on the inside. Why? Because "Way to Go Kevin!" is an exclamation.
But if your quote itself is not an exlcamation or a question, then you can put the mark on the outside.
Does that make "sense"?

Note: Okay, as my friends, you are going to have to let me know when this joke is over. I've been known to beat a dead horse long after it ceased being funny.

Not that a dead horse is ever funny.

ryan said...

Gates, that was one of the best things I've read in awhile.