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Overuse of Quotation Marks

Some writers regularly use quotation marks to show special usage of a word. The use of quotation marks to indicate irony or a loose definition is meaningful but can also become tiresome. For example, consider the sentence:  Julia walked into the party with her “friend” and Julia quickly moved toward the center of the room. The use of quotation marks in this situation can imply sarcasm. The person with whom Julia arrived at the party might think he is Julia’s friend, but a real friend doesn’t warrant quotation marks around the label. However, the meaning is unclear, because the person accompanying Julia could also be more than a friend, perhaps her lover pretending to be a friend.  In either case, the quotation marks imply that the definition of the word is not the common meaning and the quotation marks also draw attention to the word.

Every now and then, such emphasis is interesting in prose. However, overuse of quotation marks is a sign of lazy writing. When I am editing a selection with too many quotation marks that do not signify actual quotations, I push the writer on word choice and suggest alternate words that are stronger and can stand on their own for meaning, without the use of quotation marks.

Sometimes the use of quotation marks is silly and illustrates a lack of knowledge about punctuation. I was recently at the emissions testing site, waiting for my car to be tested. There was an instructional sign on the door of the waiting room. At the end of the instructions, was a “Thanks” in quotation marks. If the maker of the sign wanted to emphasize how much he appreciates us as customers, then bold and/or italic font would be a good way to say Thanks in a stronger voice. Putting “Thanks” in quotation marks borders on sarcastic. We are actually captive to the emissions testing site, required by regulations to comply, so perhaps the workers don’t have to be actually thankful for us as customers. Obviously I am reading too much into the quotation marks. The sign maker thought that it was a good idea to put “Thanks” in quotation marks. And the sign did make me smile, mostly because of the unintended irony. I also was thankful because in the course of doing an errand I was provided with more material for my editorial blog.

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