Monday, September 6, 2010

Quotation Marks: Where's the Beef?

Thanks to @binzanderson for shining the Twitter spotlight on this menu mishap.

Where does the chef go wrong? By using quotation marks, he makes us wonder if "all day long" is code for 45 seconds in the microwave.

Quick rule: 
  • If you mean what you say, don't use quotation marks.
  • Quotation marks are the written equivalent of air quotes; they suggest irony.

  • A hearty slab of prime rib rubbed with our special house blend of herbs and spices, then slow roasted all day long


  1. My favorite professor from college would have had a fit not only with this misuse, but would have in the same breath condemned your implicit allowance of them as a device to suggest irony. ("Written equivalent of air quotes", by the way, is rather amusing -- it gets the derivation strictly backwards.)

    Dr. Tierney would have condemned the ironic use as a lazy cheat: it allows one to snicker at something, or hold it up for ridicule, without having to argue WHY one believes it is invalid -- and possibly to do so in a fashion such that the author can claim not to have done so in the first place.

    Example: "The leaders met with the 'holy' Dalai Lama while in Tibet, and…" — why the quotes around 'holy'? Does this mean that his followers believe him to be so, that he claims to be so, or that the visiting leaders believe him to be so? Is it perhaps a condemnation that someone who supports separatism or (as some such as Christopher Hitchens have argued) hypocritically appreciates nuclear armament by certain parties could be considered 'holy'? Is it a rebuke of the very idea of his being holy? -- and, if so, is that because the writer thinks 'holiness' imaginary, or because someone else (another character from history or mythology, perhaps) is the only one who can be thus described.

    Quotes can also, if they surround a description, allow one to suggest that something has been said without identifying who has done so, which is, at best, rhetorical sleight-of-hand.

    Example: "Many were shocked by 'Muslim sleeper terrorist' Obama's measured tone." Who, if anyone, is the author claiming described Obama as a 'Muslim sleeper terrorist'? Some audience members? All audience members? Someone who arranged for those present to have arrived in the first place? Someone uninvolved? Or some true/imagined "people/activists/cause-at-large"? In any case, this needs to be expanded.

  2. Thanks for all of that, You're obviously taking this veeeery seriously. I just thought it was pretty darn funny. :-)

  3. You're obviously taking this veeeery seriously.

    Oh, I will "drink you under the table" when it comes to taking an arbitrary thing too seriously. It's one of my "problems". For illustration: check your archives: "Joshua McGee", here on this site, and "@clanmackay" on Twitter are also "mine".

    ( See what I did there w/r/t the quotation marks? :-p )