Cool it with the quotation marks

So I saw this:


Naturally, the use of quotation marks around “Best Quality” left me with a lot of “confidence” that these particular tulips would “survive the weekend.” Put another way, it’s as if the florist were saying, “They told me these were the best quality. If the flowers smell like tuna juice and look like curdled goose droppings tomorrow, don’t blame me.”

Quotation marks are brilliant for bringing attention to a word or phrase, and often, that’s exactly what you want; readers’ eyes are drawn to quotes. But at other times, quotation marks are the equivalent of raising your voice an octave while speaking. To declare something to be best quality is fine; to call it “best quality” invites distrust.

In my newspaper days, more than one editor inserted quotation marks into my articles when they weren’t needed, as if “hang out” and “cool” needed to be segregated from the rest of the article for being too edgy, too Fonzie for AP style.*

To declare something to be cool is fine; to declare it to be “cool” is to try to sell its coolness, which is not cool. Fonzie would never say something is “cool.” To Fonzie, everything is just… cool.

Be cool.

Quotation marks used this way can only serve two purposes, neither of which is good:

  1. They attribute words to someone else, either to give them proper credit or to shirk responsibility for their claims.
  2. They switch voices, to show the reader that you’re either giving an example or being sarcastic.

So when a casual writer misuses quotation marks, that writer is tainting the meaning of the words, and thus the message the reader receives. Tainting your words with unnecessary punctuation is just… just not cool.

* See how I used Fonzie as an adjective instead of a proper noun? Some would have put that in quotes. Not me, though.

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2 thoughts on “Cool it with the quotation marks

  1. That’s kind of intriguing. I don’t necessarily mind when someone uses quotation marks around 2 or 3 disconnected words because I understand the marketing aspect of it; anything to highlight what one hopes is the words their potential customers will react to. I like the sentence you used with the quotation marks as an example because people do that, but in a way, I’m not sure the expectation the sentence came out with would have been accurate, or at least seen the same way across the board. For instance, if you were talking a quality pair of pants, is the expectation that they’d last longer no matter what, even if they were put in a washing machine with the tag said “dry clean only”?

    Oh yeah, I had to use the quotation marks there because I didn’t know if your comment section would support the html code lol

    Then again, I have my own gripe, that being people not using semicolon’s anymore; I mean, really people? lol

    1. I see your point about using quotation marks to make words stand out, but there are other options to choose from. Varying fonts, sizes and typefaces can make your text appear sloppy so I generally avoid them, but depending on the situation, it may be appropriate. Anything that pulls the keywords away from a larger mass of text can be considered, such as bullet points or paragraph breaks. Then there’s my favorite: Strip away unnecessary words so the most important ones will have less competition for the reader’s eye!

      And you’re right about the semicolon; it’s such a powerful tool, and a shame people don’t grasp its grace and utility!

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