Two uses for Quotation Marks

rogersgeorge on March 18th, 2017

Everybody knows that quotation marks are for when you want to show that you’re exactly duplicating what someone said (or wrote).

I hope everybody knows that you don’t put quotation marks unnecessarily on grocery store signs and restaurant bulletin boards. Those illiterate quotation marks positively curdle my blood. I’ve been known to get out my handkerchief and erase them. Well, once, maybe, on a dry erase board. Usually I’m too polite, but that misuse still makes me cringe. Here (shudder) are two egregious examples of this profanation of English:

Image result for grocery store quotation marks Image result for grocery store quotation marks






I got them by googling images for “grocery store quotation marks.” Go look yourself if you want to spend some time cringing at the ones I didn’t pick.

But these horrors are related to a legitimate use of quotation marks—when you want to make a tongue-in-cheek apology for something, to call attention to it, to indicate that you really mean something like its opposite. Today I learned the name for this kind of quotation mark. I’ll let the person who showed me the name tell you:

One of the two classes I’m teaching this term is our sophomore-level “modern physics” class, which richly deserves its scare quotes.

Thank you, Chad Orzel, contributor to Forbes in an article titled “Why Do We Spend So Much Time Teaching Historical Physics?”

Oh yes, that’s another use for quotation marks: to identify written works that are parts of other written works, such as articles in a magazine.

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Pair Parallelism

rogersgeorge on March 14th, 2017

In English (and other languages) we have pairs of words that go together. If you use one, you should use the other. Some pairs that come to mind are:

not only—but also
on the one hand—on the other hand (some wags add “on the third hand”)
Greek has one called the “men—de” construction. Okay, here’s the Greek; I know you’re curious: μεν … δε.

See how funny it seems when someone gets it wrong? (Second cell.) The comic is Curtis, by Ray Billingsley.

Do any other pairs come to mind? Share in the comments.

Comparative, Superlative

rogersgeorge on March 12th, 2017

The comic Luann (here Luann Againn), by Greg Evans, has a character characterized by interest in physical appearance and lack of interest in things academic. Her loss. But she’s a good example of what not to do, so that’s a good thing, I guess. Does her mistake jump out at you? If you’re a regular reader of this humble site, it should.

Right! When you compare two things, you use the comparative form, not the superlative. It’s “better,” not “best.” And when you’re not comparing anything, use the positive form, in this case, “good.” Poor Tiffany.

Why People use “I” after a Preposition

rogersgeorge on March 10th, 2017

Because your grade-school English teacher corrected two mistakes at once.

You’d say something like the first three words in this Jump Start comic by Robb Armstrong:

The first “mistake” is putting yourself first when you mention yourself and someone else. Putting yourself first is perfectly grammatical; doing so isn’t humble, though. In our culture, we think mentioning yourself last is more polite, but I have seen scientific writing in which the team leader put himself first. Something like “I and my colleagues performed a series of experiments,” which makes sense if the colleagues were only helping out.

The second mistake is a real one, using “me” as the subject. If you hadn’t happened to mention that other person, you wouldn’t have gotten it wrong—no ones says “Me went to the store.” Well, unless they’re being deliberately funny.

The problem is that correcting two things at once is a bit of overload for a young mind, so you don’t notice that you have a compound subject in the corrected sentence, and later when you mention your friend and yourself after a preposition, you follow the whole double correction and say something like “The teacher really gave it to Tim and I.”

I remember being in a car once with a bunch of students, and I happened to use “[someone] and me” after a preposition, and one of the students delightfully corrected me for saying “me.” I praised her for being alert, and explained my sentence with a short version of this post. I have no idea whether any of the occupants of the car changed their manner of speaking. Oh well.

PS—wouldn’t you know, I ran into this same mistake the same day I saw that Jump Start. This one is Rip Haywire. The mistake is in the middle of cell 5, though I think some of you can relate to the top row of cells…

…and here’s someone, The Norm, who made the “corrected” mistake. Cell 3:

A word about Numbers

rogersgeorge on March 8th, 2017

I checked this site’s history, and all I found that was about numbers was this post about writing numbers with letters. It includes some stuff about numerology, Greek, the number of the beast, and a party game. Go read it.

But I appear not to have mentioned these more mumdane stylistic niceties about writing numbers:

Write out single-digit numbers, don’t use numerals. Use one, two, et cetera. Not 1, 2, and so on.

Avoid starting sentences with numerals. Rewrite the sentence if possible. Don’t write, “1,223,852 people voted in the election.” Try “More than a million people…” Another example: “Thirty senators agreed.” Not “30 senators…”

In technical material, however, numerals are okay. For example, “Standard voltage for this style of capacitor is 6 volts.” “Don’t allow the motor to exceed 7000 rpm.”

When you refer to something that has a numeral, you may use a numeral: “Repeat Step 4 as often as necessary.”

So there you have it. You can count on me!