Punctuation Abuse Revisited

There was a thread about the misuse of the apostrophe. Likewise, the poor, misunderstood quotation mark has already fallen victim to punctuation abuse!

People like to put a word in quotes to stress a double-meaning. Even in speaking, we will use our fingers to show quote marks. But, this is not needed. The pun does not misuse or define the meaning of the word we place in quotes. Although it may not be the first meaning that comes to mind, it is still (more times than not) an accepted meaning for the word. In short, we should stop abusing quote marks…and let language speak for itself!

…Now, we won’t even try to address the battered comma!

  • Jinx

I don’t think that’s for puns. It’s for sarcasm:

It looks like she’s displaying her “tolerance” again.

Hmm…yeah, that’s a good point. But, I have seen it for puns as well, and there it is not necessary. However, I guess one could argue that it adds to the overall intended meaning to the statement by placing the key pun word in quotes… - Jinx

The use of the quote around a single work is generally an indication that the speaker isn’t believed. (It’s a matter of style rather than usage, and it’s not a misuse.)

Thus if you say:

You’re implying the woman involved is not his wife.

The above example shows why putting quotes around a word is not a good way of emphasizing it (as it sometimes done on signs).

Using it around a pun is common, too, but it’s like laughing at your own jokes and is avoided by more writers, other than writers of children’s books.

Since this thread is about punctuation and in General “Questions,” should it not contain at least a question mark?

I think putting quotes around a word weakens it rather than gives it the emphasis that is intended. I’ll use RC’s example:

John Smith registered in the hotel with his “wife.”

John Smith registered in the hotel with his wife.

The former, as someone already pointed out, implies that the lady really isn’t John’s wife. In the latter example, however, the italicized text makes it clear that John definitely registered in the hotel with his wife.

I think it’s more appropriate to italicize, bold or underline words for emphasis than to put quotes around the word. If this isn’t possible (such as in a plain text environment) then I use asterisks (e.g., his wife). In text-only environments such as Usenet this has become the convention.

But couldn’t use of quotes in such a context often be justified as marking a quote (her “tolerance” when she had herself claimed to be possessed of it, John Smith’s “wife” when he had used that term?)

Marking something as a quote automatically dissociates oneself from its veracity, so quotes can be used to indicate sarcasm or disbelief. (In fact, in the latter example, wouldn’t it be correct to say that “John Smith” registered in the “hotel” with his “wife”, citing two claims of “John Smith” and one claim of the lodging establishment?)