phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Quotation marks

Posted by Smokey Stover on May 01, 2009 at 03:31

In Reply to: Quotation marks posted by ESC on April 30, 2009 at 16:01:

: : : : : : Pls tell me the differences between 'x' and "x". My understanding is that in the UK single quotation marks are usually used and double quotation marks are often used to attract attention to ironic words. In the States, it seems that double quotation marks are used without such an implication. This means single quotation marks are rarely used in the US or are they used to imply certain things there?

: : : : : In the U.S., single quotes are used for a quote within a quote. She said, "He wrote me a letter and said, 'I'll be home on Friday.'" Double quotes are used for direct quotes -- the exact words of a speaker, either the whole statement or a fragment -- and to enclose words like nicknames or unfamiliar terms.

: : : : In the UK these days single quotes are the norm and double quotes are normally used only as "quotes within quotes" - the reverse of US practice. (VSD)

: : : Thanks for your clarification. I'm still unsure about scare quotes which implies irony etc...(that is what I wanted to know). In the UK double quotes are used for this purpose but how about in the States? You use single quotes for simple quotation as well as quotation with more complicated implications such as irony, sarcasm, satire, i.e. there is no differentiation between simply quoting what someone said and scare quotes, unlike the UK?

: : [Editorial practice in the US is still, as it has been since the time of Webster, to use "double" quotation marks for scare-quotes, except when within a quotation, then the single marks are to be used. As Victoria said, it appears to be just the opposite of British practice. And it's pretty uniform throughout the publishing biz. It will be interesting to see if it changes under pressure from the anything-goes multitudinous styles in internet-based publishing; we all seem to make up our own rules and break them without a qualm. When publishing on-line I take my cue from the amount of visual clutter the receiving web-page can bear - a subjective judgment if ever there was one, and it varies with my mood. - Bac.]

: Never heard of "scare quotes." Regards U.S. usage: In addition to the use of double quotes to mark quoted words and phrases, they are used to set off any emphasized word or short phrase (He had a "now-or-never" look on his face.) and to indicate an ironical use of words (He "borrowed" some money from my purse.). It seems to me that newspaper editors in my day discouraged the use of quote marks in this manner. But that was a long time ago. The Elements of Grammar by Margaret Shertzer.

Baceceras wonders if the British vs. American distinction in the use of single or double quotations will "change under pressure." Pshaw, that won't happen in our lifetimes. What happens on Internet message boards and blogs matters much less than what matters in the minds of editors, most of whom presumably have style guides to work from. Spelling reforms occasionally happen, but more often don't. Noah Webster was not the last one to reform American spelling. The switch from "traveller" to "traveler" happened only recently.

But that's only the U.S., and only spelling. I'm not certain, but I think Britain still has travellers, just as it has humours and odours. George Bernard Shaw made some very sensible suggestions about English punctuation, suggestions which have been put into effect--but only in Shaw's works.

A much more difficult problem for writers, whether professional or otherwise, is the location of other punctuation with quotation marks. When it comes to tall punctuation (like ? : and ;) logic usually prevails. But the comma can be either an innie or an outie. The first is American, the second British, except (for me) when I'm writing on the Net. The outside position is infinitely more convenient, and I sort of got used to it when I once wrote for a British publication. So I waver between the two, except when I think people are looking.

Margaret Sh ertzer (whose book I think I will have to read) comments about newspaper editors discouragi ng the use of quotation marks in an ironical sense. I'm sure she's right. Newspapers can't afford unnecessary ambiguity. They are trying to reach a more or less universal public, part of which is bound to misunderstand anything ironical or faintly ambiguous, and possibly complain about it.