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April 16, 2010


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Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Scott. You may be worrying that your readers will not understand some words you have chosen, and the quotation marks are representing some nuance you want to bring to the words.

You might want to try different words when you find yourself using quotation marks. In my examples, the word "bandwidth" and the phrase "in the loop" are cliches. Other words would not need to be dressed up in quotation marks to suit the situation.

Thanks for commenting.


Mickey Fox

Interesting and salient subject. I find the *overuse* of quotation marks and other forms of improper emphasis distracting as well.

That being said, it is often difficult to tell when the emphasis (I choose to call it emphasis overutilization instead) is properly used; sometimes there is just not enough context to make that determination.

At any rate, your reminder is a good one to keep in mind - I should think that we consider emphasis overutilization as often as we consider the cliche conundrum... (and the trailing elipsis confusion)

Cookie Biggs

This is a great post, Lynn.

How do you feel about enclosing taglines in quotation marks, particularly on marketing materials? For example, the plumber's truck or ad that says
"We fix it right the first time."
Or worse,
We "fix it right" the first time.
Egad! Might they have been thinking that their quote marks emphasize their words?

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Cookie. Yes, I think they are using the quotation marks for emphasis. I once sat through a workshop where the instructor wrote every important word in quotation marks. I thought I would go crazy but survived the day.

No, the plumber should not use quotation marks. The marks suggest that he or she is quoting someone. And "fix it right"? I agree with you: Egad!

Thanks for stopping by.


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Mickey. I agree that it can be difficult to tell when emphasis is correct. But keep in mind: Quotation marks are not to show emphasis--they are to show a special use or misuse of a word.

For emphasis, we can italicize or underline.

Do you agree?



Another instance that I have found the use of quotation marks is in a reply email to you. The reply will contain a quoted word which you used in your original email and either used it incorrectly or misspelled it. Kind of a subtle criticism. Example: Yes I am "ok" with it.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Ricky. I appreciate your example.

I do not like quotation marks used to criticize, even subtly. I hope that if people read your comment, they will avoid this use.


Laura A. Simms

Thank you for addressing a pet peeve. In one of its online writings, CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE said that overuse of quotation marks made a writer's work look "jittery and uncertain" (I put that in quotes because I am quoting CMOS). The printed 15th edition of CMOS goes further, commenting that one should not put in quotes a term with which the reader or the writer is familiar. Using quotes implies a lack of familiarity with the usage. The 16th edition expands the topic.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Excellent information, Laura! Thank you for taking the time to share it.



Thanks for this article. Incredibly, one of the worst offenders include http://www.smh.com.au/ one of the leading newpapers in Sydney.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Paul. Is it possible that the material is in quotation marks because the newspaper is using someone else's words? When I clicked through to the paper, that seemed to be the case with two articles I scanned. But I'm not sure.

Thanks for dropping by.


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