Friday, September 21, 2007

Quotidian complaints

This is what love of language has become.

I was just talking to my students today about this. Not the overuse of quotation marks in writing--but the peevologists who complain about it.

AP writer Jocelyn Noveck just gave Bethany Keeley's blog a big boost. And of course I'm a little jealous. Keeley started the "blog" of "unnecessary" quotation marks in 2005 and started collecting submissions and posting pictures of signs posters ads documents...all illustrating the scourge of baffling quotation marks.

Due credit: the posts and the comments often work to explain or understand the rhetorical reasons for the quotes.

The article (perhaps more than the blog) persists with references to certain devices as annoying and unnecessary abuses misuses missteps and problems.

Noveck calls these "linguistic concers" and labels Keeley a "language-lover" which is too often used with the connotation of intolerance. Tho Keeley defends her generous spirit saying she doesn't feel superior to those whose usage she highlights.

'I don't consider myself a prescriptivist or a pedant,' she says (really). 'So I'm open to critiques of my own language. I make plenty of mistakes myself.'
I wouldn't call these quotation marks a mistake. They can be overused and they often lose their effect. But it really has nothing to do with grammar. I'd say this is as much a grammatical issue as emoticons italics and bold typeface are.

The story then takes a very odd jump to the overuse of quotations. Not quotation marks. Quotations.
'I have a thing against overuse of quotations, period,' says [Pat] Hoy, director of the expository writing program at New York University. 'Whether in academic or bureaucratic writing, it's giving up responsibility for what you're writing. It's a pushing aside of the responsibility to be the major thinker in the piece.'

So not only are quotation marks overused when they are not used only to mark attribution to a speaker or writer other than the person typing; now they're overused when they set off the very type of passage the peevologists are telling us they should mark: Only use them to set off quotations. But don't set off too many quotations! The salient connection is the tone of a people-do-bad-things-with-language fixation. Later in the article is fleeting mention of another blog that "tracks abuses of the word 'literally.'" I'm guessing that hopefully and singular their will soon have their own website...if they don't have one already.
I cut out a few sentences in which Hoy is quoted regarding an early essay rejection that taught him not to quote so heavily. Perhaps I learned from it too.]


  1. hi. I found this article because of the link to my blog. I wanted to thank you for understanding my position correctly - I'm not trying to "protect" the "virtue" of the english language (quotes intentional). I'm just trying to have a little fun with multiple meanings. The resonance and connection with peevologists kind of annoys me, actually. Unnecessary quotation marks don't annoy me - they crack me up!

  2. Hilarious. My favorite was "Please leave light 'on' after business hours."

    I'm sure "Brian" will love this post.

  3. I'm glad you caught the distinction I was trying to make there Bethany. Reading the article then looking at your site I noted a schism between your opinions and what the article said were your concerns.

    Thanks for stopping by.


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