Lately I have been seeing unnecessary quotation marks "everywhere." The quotation marks I just used in the previous sentence are unnecessary, as are the ones in the title of this post.
Quotation marks are perfect when you want to help your readers recognize you are using a word in a special way. You may be using it loosely or ironically, not literally or sincerely. The quotation marks are like a wink to let your readers in on your clever choice.
These sentences illustrate the correct use of quotation marks to show a special use:
- He drove us to his "cabin" in the woods. [It was not a cabin. Maybe it was a rickety shed. Or maybe it was a 4,000-square-foot luxury home. The reader will learn more in the rest of the message.]
- Judy's "occupation" is chief worrier and checkbook balancer. [It is not really an occupation. The quotation marks signal the reader not to think of this as a job, not even for a moment.]
- Her "invoice" was a torn, used envelope with a dollar amount and her signature scribbled on it. [The quotation marks show the reader that the word invoice is used loosely. Without them, the reader may stumble and ask, "That's an invoice?"]
Here are incorrect examples (disguised) that have piled up in my computer recently:
- In "designing" this project, we considered everyone's input.
- I don't need to play "middleman" as long as I am "in the loop."
- I wonder if this book was "ghostwritten."
- We simply do not have the "bandwidth" to take on this responsibility.
- I am certain this program will be a "go."
- He is very "bullish" on finding an IT solution.
- We don't have the budget because we put it all into one training "event."
Not one of those examples uses the word or phrase in quotation marks in an unusual way. The quotation marks suggest a loose usage, though, so they detract from the writer's simple message. They make us wonder what "designing" means in the context of the sentence and whether "in the loop" means something unusual.
I was inspired to write this blog post because of an email I received today that began with this sentence:
- Here is a response from a "typical" attendee.
I was going to call those quotation marks wrong, but I have reconsidered. I am guessing the writer wants to indicate that no attendee is typical. Although that point may be debatable, I'll accept it along with the quotation marks that make it a point.
So are you "with me" about the overuse of quotation marks? Let me know what you are "seeing."