Being Misquoted

Written by Jester

Everybody’s got a little quirk when it comes to the English language. Some people just hate hearing certain things—it causes your frontal lobe to growl, your face to grimace, it clenches your butt cheeks. Some people hate seeing commonly misspelled words like “alot,” double-negatives, or non-existent words like “irregardless.” With me, it’s the improper use of quotation marks.

Okay, not everyone’s a great speller. Some people don’t need to be real great writers (like myself) in their every day lives. Fine. But this is a pretty basic rule folks, and the clue to its use is right in the name. QUOTATION MARKS. You like, use these whenever you’re quoting somebody.

1. “Hello there,” he greeted. “How are you?”

2. “Quack, quack,” said the duck.

3. “Yes, I’m having an affair with a prostitute,” said the Member of Parliament. “The sex is fantastic. You got that?”

4. “If the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will say, ‘this was their finest hour.’” —Winston Churchill.

That last one actually had a quotation within a quotation. See how I quoted ol’ Winston quoting someone else? He’s speculating that there will come a day when there are people who say “This was their finest hour,” and even though they don’t exist yet, their speech is still put in quotes. To distinguish their voice from Churchill’s. This is an especially important use of quotation marks. Often you will need to convey information from other people, but you don’t necessarily want to attach your personal endorsement to the information. For example:

According to the contractor, the idea that the roof would fall in was “extremely unlikely.”

So when the roof caves in, and people demand why you said that it was extremely unlikely that the roof would fall in, you can say “Hey, I didn’t say it. The contractor did. I just repeated what he said. Get it?”

Not many do get it. It seems that people like to use quotation marks when they’re trying to emphasize something, make it stand out. That’s what all caps, underscoring and bold is for.

Here are a few examples I’ve noticed.

1. Keep your grimmy hands off “MY STUFF”
- seen scribbled on a staff room locker

Let’s assume this bard meant “grimy” and skip right to the heart of the matter. Okay, he wants to establish ownership, or territory, like a dog pissing on a tree. But it’s redundant here—he’s all ready used all caps, and then he further tries to emphasize possession with an inappropriate use of quotations marks. Incidentally, he also underlined “MY STUFF” for good measure. I guess if this failed to deter invaders and thieves, the next step would be to really piss on the locker. Hey, have you ever been in an employee locker room? This theory isn’t that far out.

2. Fish and Chips “Halibut”
- on a restaurant menu

Sometimes it’s better to just say nothing. Here the menu writer is basically saying “The boss referred to it as ’halibut,’ not me.” In other words, the likelihood of that greasy piece of batter actually containing any halibut is very small. It’s fairly common practice for restaurants to have fish made up of cod or halibut “flavored” material, which is basically fish bits and pieces left-over, processed beyond belief. But why draw attention to it?

3. “Another cashier would be only to be pleased to help you”
- sign on top of an unmanned check-out counter

This is a beauty. Perhaps this is deliberate, and the writer is being very sarcastic. Most supermarkets are content with a simple sign that reads “Closed” or “Next cash please” or at the most “Another cashier would be pleased to help you.” None of these would have quotation marks, the only reason you see them now is because I’m quoting the signs. “’Another cashier would be only too pleased to help you’” suggests that the sign’s creator is sniggeringly imitating something one of those “Get-up-and-go-I-actually-believe- the-shit-they-print-in-leadership-technique-books” kind of managers. The use of “only too pleased” makes it sound super sarcastic, as if the cashier would much rather go down to the Cleaning Supplies isle and chug a bottle of bleach rather than serve another customer. Go ahead, try and say what’s on that sign without sounding sarcastic. It can’t be done. You might as well say, “Oh, forgive my lack of openness, oh high and mighty customer. Might I, your lowly servant, implore you to take your custom one cashier down, you of the giant wallet and huge penis I’ve no doubt?”

It’s very easy to remember. If you are quoting somebody, be they real or speculative, use quotation marks. If you’re not, don’t use ‘em. Real simple.

By the way, I am aware that the guy who runs Spinneweb also did a rant like this. I’d already started mine when I discovered his. I’m glad I’m not alone in my strange obsessions. Perhaps the two of us could get together and spread the word. “Another ranter would be only too please to blast you down.”