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Quotation Marks: How Not to Use Them

Last Updated on March 31, 2019

On my old website, circa 1999, I had a section dedicated to grammar mistakes I found in everyday locales. My favorite was a sign on the Third Street Promenade, from when Santa Monica’s glorified strip-mall and environs were undergoing a rehabilitation that consisted of tearing down old-growth trees and replacing them with saplings destined never to reach the heights of store-front awnings, due to the meager amount of soil allotted them.

The sign said “Danger!” — with the quotes — and then had some inane warning to alert potentially litigious Promenade patrons of the obvious open pits that were already cordoned off with yellow caution tape. With those four little curled lines, what the city signs were telling people was that the danger was presumed, not real, perhaps just a laugh. You’d think the sign makers would have some grasp of the language they’ve been hired to promote, but errors like this seem to be on the rise.

Take, for instance, the handwritten sign I spotted this evening in my neighborhood Ralphs. I could have understood them putting quotes around the whole phrase (“Celebrity of the Month”) or even questioning the status of the reputed celebrity (“Celebrity” of the Month), since I had no idea who was in the pic, but the quotes around “Month” baffle me. Are the Ralphs employees implying that they’re on some other calendar system. Lunar? Gregorian? Or perhaps that they’re showcasing celebs on a triweekly basis?

Although I’m planning to resurrect this section as “bloopers” — I’m using quotes because it’s the title of a section, but lowercase since it’ll be a tag (just need to cover my bases) — I know I’ll never surpass the collection of misused quotation marks on The Gallery of “Misused” Quotation Marks, which is fine by me. I get enough joy out of copyediting Chinese menus.

I doubt I’ll ever find an example as good as this one.

Got a good one? Send it my way. I’ll “think” about “posting” it.

For more grammar fun, check out my Pinterest board “In Need of a Copyeditor.”


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