Monday, August 18, 2008

Seriously, what is up with People Using Quotation Marks for Emphasis?

I have to travel a lot by bus, and as most people know that is a pretty lousy way to travel. I have a pretty good back on me, but even my back starts to ache after a few hours in a bus seat. So I was pretty happy when I found that a local bus company offering long distance trips has a sign up that (translated) says:

Travel “comfortably” - travel by bus!

Those quotation marks around “comfortably” were just so right. It felt so nice and entertaining that a bus company would actually acknowledge what an uncomfortable way it is to travel, even if it’s a bad way to advertise your business.

But no, things aren’t that good. A friend of mine pointed out that they probably think that quotation marks can be used to put emphasis on something. I had a hard time believing him, since it seems so unreasonable.

We have very good ways of putting emphasis on things. Setting something in bold, italics or underlining it are all very common, easy and good things to do. Quotation marks are decidedly not a good thing. Quotation marks usually give the exact opposite effect, like in the example with “comfortably” above. So I just can’t figure out why anyone would ever think to use it that way.

Well, turns out people do it anyway.

Here is one example that I stumbled upon. Someone has put up a note on a bulletin board saying:

Please “do not” use staples for posting

And someone has responded with:

Please do not use quotation marks for emphasis.

Then there is this one, with some “threatening” writing on a wall. It says:

I’m gonna “kill you”
Watch your back
Crack Whore

A terribly confusing piece of writing, if you ask me. I can’t figure out what he is going to do, but it doesn’t seem to be any real killing involved at least.

Then of course there’s also an entire blog dedicated to the phenomenon. The “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks can be found here.

So, obviously it is very common. Distressingly common even. But even though it can be terribly amusing, or at least terrible and amusing, I fail to see the reason why it happens.

Do any of you readers have any idea why anyone of sane mind would assume that quotation marks can be used in such a way? I can’t figure it out and I’m genuinely curious.