Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Why do 'people' misuse quotation marks?

In this “column” several years ago, I noted that, when writing, many people include an apostrophe when making a word plural. The results include:
  • No check’s accepted.
  • Buy ticket’s here.
  • High prices are unfair to consumer’s.
  • The team has four game’s left.
Not only is the apostrophe unnecessary, it is incorrect.
Soon after that column, inaccuracies of that sort “disappeared” from the tri-state landscape. Just kidding. Yes, many people still add an apostrophe before the s when making a word plural. However, I am not aware of this offense causing “injury” or “death.”

Turns out that I’m not the only one tilting at windmills. Far from it.

Graduate student Bethany Keeley (pictured) is taking on the curious practice of placing “quotation marks” around “words” when they are not needed.

Keeley in 2005 created a blog to call attention to odd, humorous and sad examples of bad punctuation. Its name is The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks.

Here are some examples from her blog, taken from signs posted here and there:
  • Rest Room “OPEN”
  • Lunchmeats with “NO” MSG!
  • We will be closed on 7/04 to observe ““Independence Day” (yes, two quotation marks at the beginning)
  • Bike Lane “CLOSED”
  • Crazy “Low” Prices!
  • Please Do Not Throw Paper Towels in the “Toilet”
The authors of these “signs” apparently intended to give emphasis to certain words. I guess that the underline and bold type wouldn’t do it. As Keeley noted, “I would really like to know what so-called toilet this sign is over.”

Keeley, 24, soon will begin doctorate study in speech communication at the University of Georgia, from which she recently received her master’s degree. Her research revolves around the rhetoric of religion, politics and culture.

“I’ve been passionate about writing my whole life,” she told me. “Even when I was a kid I wanted to be a published writer and spent a lot of time reading and writing stories.”

Keeley added, “I started the blog, though, because I thought it was funny to intentionally obfuscate misused quotation marks, because the unintended meaning was usually pretty great.”

After grading exams for a public speaking class, Keeley couldn’t resist mentioning that a student wrote that the speaker in the sample speech might change the “wording” if she were speaking to Congress. (In a speech, what else would one change?)

As word of her blog spreads, Keeley receives enough submissions to post examples up to several times a day.

She doesn’t use many examples from newspapers. Thank goodness. “I tend to give journalists the benefit of the doubt,” she states on her blog. “Quotes in headlines tend to be there for a reason.”

There are many other blogs dealing with the use and abuse of language. One focuses on the aforementioned abuse of the apostrophe. Another compiles examples of where, in otherwise all-capital-letter signs, authors use lowercase for the letter L. So, for example, a sign advertising a certain breed of dogs states BEAGlES FOR SALE.

While these “sites” are largely a diversion for bloggers, there is a message: Some “people” still care about “word’s” — including spelling, grammar and, yes, punctuation.

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