Thursday, January 01, 2009

Quotation Mark Promiscuity

Anyone who has graded student papers has grown accustomed to seeing the dreaded scare quotation marks. These are words or phrases placed within quotes that do not actually quote anything but rather are used when the author is unsure of the proper usage either of the word/phrase in question, believes that they are using a word ironically or else mockingly or, as commonly, simply does not grasp the proper usage of quotation marks. I expect this from undergraduates and try to curb this tendency. By the end of a typical semester I have made headway which is about as much as any professor can ask from a semester's work.

But I was amused to read Jonathan Chait's evisceration of the Wall Street Journal's "wildly promiscuous use of quotation marks." The editors of the WSJ certainly know better, and Chait uses the intentional usage of punctuation to achieve none-to-subtle ideological ends.

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