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Pedantic Punctuation, Part 2: Emphasis Quotes March 19, 2008

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Random Musings.
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Another in my ongoing series on punctuation errors that drive me crazy…

There are a few simple rules to using quote marks correctly. These are easy to remember, so let’s get them out of the way quickly:

  • Quotes are used to indicate words that are directly quoted from another source.
  • They are also used to indicate an alternative or non-standard usage of an otherwise well-understood word or phrase.

That’s it.  You may not use them emphasize words or phrases.  You may not use them draw attention to the important part of a sentence.

Here’s a topical example that makes this clear:

Elliot Spitzer was seen at the hotel with his “wife.”

Hmmm.  In this case, efforts to emphasize that Mr. Spitzer was seen with his wife seem to have gone astray.  I am also fond of statements like this in restaurants:

Try Our “Beef” Special

Thanks, but I’ll pass.  Mentally, I am saying the word “beef” while making “finger quotes” in the air, which leads me to believe that the special may be many things, but it certainly isn’t beef.

If you are directly quoting a source, verbatim, make sure you use the quotes.  If you are making finger quotes to the reader while saying something, get those quotes in there.  But if all you want to do is draw attention to what you are saying, there are other proven conventions that still work.  Really!

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