A few years ago, one of my freelance copyeditors sent me this note:
I bought some things at Schnucks the other day. I looked at my receipt, which said this:
Thanks from your "friends" at Schnucks.
Does that mean they're not really my friends? Or are they quoting text from another receipt?
I get snarky notes like this from my freelance staff all the time. One of my editors told me about this site, The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks: http://quotation-marks.blogspot.com. Here are some of the examples pictured on that blog:
On a restaurant awning: Amicci's: A "very" casual eatery
On a birthday cake: Happy birthday "Ann"
On an exit sign: "Emergency" use stairs
A sign on an airplane from Tokyo to Beijing: Please enjoy our "Safe" and "Comfortable" flight
Amusing as they are, these signs, receipts, and notes are a reminder of how much we're losing sight of the meaning and correct use of quotation marks. It appears that the writers of those notes want to emphasize certain words in their messages. Well, quotes aren't the way to go if you want to emphasize certain parts of your message. Here are the actual rules for the use of quotation marks:
1. Use quotation marks around a word, phrase, or sentence to indicate that the word or phrase is quoted from another source.
2. Use quotation marks around a word, phrase, or sentence to indicate that you're not conveying the literal meaning of said word, phrase, or sentence.
Here's what Chicago Manual of Style says:
Quotation marks are often used to alert readers that a term is used in a nonstandard, ironic, or other special
sense. Nicknamed "scare quotes," they imply, "This is not my term" or "This is not how
the term is usually applied." Like any such device, scare quotes lose their force and irritate readers if
overused. These are legitimate uses of quotes:
In disk-to-film technology, "repros" are merely revised proofs.
"Child protection" sometimes fails to protect.
Remember that "flu" you had last winter? Well, that was actually food poisoning.
A word or phrase preceded by so-called should not be enclosed in quotation marks. The expression itself indicates irony or doubt.
So-called child protection sometimes fails to protect.
Her so-called mentor induced her to embezzle from the company.
Terms considered slang or argot should be enclosed in quotation marks only if they are foreign to the normal vocabulary of the writer or likely to be unfamiliar to readers. Quotation marks should not be used for mere colloquialisms.
Had it not been for Bryce, the "copper's nark," Collins would have made his escape.
Most commonly, skateboarders will progress and learn new moves by practicing-or "sessioning"-with peers and more advanced skaters.
I grew up in a one-horse town.
Only techies will appreciate this joke.
What is he beefing about this time?
Many of our authors are unaware of or lose sight of the correct use of quotation marks. Here are examples that should not have quotation marks:
For students wearing knee pads, demonstrate how to perform a "knee slide" on flat ground.
There's no irony there. It's actually called a knee slide. So lose the quotes.
Describe the general traffic patterns of the park and the directions most skaters will be riding so that students can get a feel for the "flow" of the skatepark.
No irony or play on words there, either. Flow is the precise word.
Many diabetic athletes report seeing a "spot" in their line of vision when they have hypoglycemia.
It is an actual spot, so there's no need to enclose that word in quotes.
If there's a need to place emphasis on a word or phrase, use italics, not quotes. But use discretion there, too. Many writers overuse italics, and readers are left with sensory overload. Here's CMS' take on italics for emphasis:
7.49 Italics for emphasis
Good writers use italics for emphasis only as an occasional adjunct to efficient sentence structure. Overused, italics quickly lose their force. Seldom should as much as a sentence be italicized for emphasis, and never a whole passage. In the first example, the last three words, though clearly emphatic, do not require italics because of their commanding position in the sentence.
The damaging evidence was offered not by the arresting officer, not by the injured plaintiff, but by the boy's own mother.
In the following examples the emphasis would be lost without the italics:
Let us dwell for a moment on the idea of conscious participation.
How do we learn to think in terms of wholes?