Monday, January 30, 2006

Quote, unquote

Language Log's Arnold Zwicky is quoted in Leslie Savan's "Slam Dunks and No-Brainers," which is nice, he says.

And he can live with some of the changes the editors made to his quote, from a post to the American Dialect Society, to conform to their style -- uppercasing some words to reflect formal capping conventions rather than his quick-hit-send lowercase style in the blog, changing his double quotes to single quotes because the entire passage is now in double quotes, moving his commas inside ending quotes marks.

But he is most put out by the changing of his asterisks (to denote emphasis more quickly than using HTML code for itals) to quote marks. And he is right to be.
Emphatic quotation marks are usually mocked as an illiteratism; but in any case, they aren't standard. Yet I have been represented as using them. I feel sullied, and frankly, I'm puzzled as to how this happened; either Savan, or someone at Knopf, apparently thinks this is an ok way to indicate emphasis.


At 8:02 PM, January 30, 2006, Anonymous Martin said...

As a copyeditor, I find LL's hostility toward my vocation a bit baffling and annoying. If they had to slog through the manuscripts I do -- I work for very good university presses -- they would be more forgiving about our propensity to which-hunt. (See LL if you don't know what I'm talking about.)

But the quotes thing is weird. I would find it hard to believe that anyone other than a copyeditor would force that change, and yet I can't see a copyeditor being OK with quotes for emphasis. I would have either kept the asterisks or set in italics.

At 4:10 AM, January 31, 2006, Blogger Rich said...

This is an issue that I have struggled with. We often run stories about historical places and people that quote original source material. Much of this material does not conform to our house style, particularly when it comes to punctuation and spelling.

I will usually "normalize" the punctuation so we don't end up with sentences like this: John ate ham, eggs and a type of toast that "tasted of barley, malt, and delicious honey," according to the noted historical book "Toast."

Looking past the fact that such a quote could be paraphrased, do I leave the comma in -- that's the way it appeared in the book -- or take it out to match the style of the rest of the sentence? But at what point does "well-formedness" trump "faithfulness"?

Although I agree there is a difference between deleting a comma and changing asterisks to quotation marks, I'm wondering where the line is.

In my corner of the world, I'm not sure most readers would understand asterisks to imply emphasis. And where underlining or italicizing -- or just writing around the offenders -- isn't an option, it would seem quotation marks are the best alternative.

At 5:01 PM, January 31, 2006, Anonymous Martin said...

The hard fact is that the LL people tend to dismiss concerns of well-formedness. From my point of view, as a copyeditor for books, and I'm sure Rich has the same thought on his mind, it's much more important to me that the book retain an intelligible frame of reference, so that readers don't stop and say, "Huh? Why is quotation signalled by single quotes here and double quotes there? Why is the comma inside the quotes here and outside there?" And so on. Such things represent a distraction from the content of the book. Let's face it, LL as a group don't have much respect for the service copyeditors provide, at least not compared to, say, my supervisor, and they tend to underestimate the amount of work it takes to transform even a well-written and clean manuscript into something you can put between covers in a bookstore. Even good writers often write unclearly. The typical LL defense often seems to amount to, "But I write perfectly well! Why are copyeditors inserting 'that' all over the place when Dryden himself used 'which'?" Most writers aren't bloggers, who have to post print-ready copy every single day. Most writers think more about their subject matter than how to present it in perfect grammar and syntax and punctuation.

At 8:23 AM, February 01, 2006, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

The problem with quotation marks as an alternative to italics or underlining for emphasis is that they signal a different kind of emphasis too often tinged with a little snark. You know, that person who raises his or her hands and makes quote marks while saying something? As I read the passage he reproduced in LL, that's how, especially, the 'Atlanta" reference comes off. It's also the reason quote marks pose problems in headlines when they aren't being used to actually quote someone.

So I agree with Nicole that he has a right to be a bit peeved at that. I think the better solution here, if italics were not available, would be to leave out the quotes entirely. It's imperfect but actually closer to his original tone, I think, in that the quote marks actually impose someone else's tone over his.

At 11:06 AM, February 02, 2006, Blogger Nicole said...

And let us not overlook the fact that, in typesetting such a book, publishers should have no problem italicizing anything.

As far as Language Log's vitriol goes, I think much of that is understandable. Many (all?) of the contributors have had work published. And in addition to the natural conflict between writers and editors, they have a bonus bone to pick: They see us changing things that they believe to be old wives' tales.

I compare to it to the feeling I get when people have problems with splitting infinitives or ending a sentence with a preposition. They feel the same way about a restrictive that and a nonrestrictive which.

I don't know if mainstream copy editors just aren't there yet or whether we'll ever be. In the meantime, we'll keep changing it because that's what we were taught and that's what is expected of us.

(And the distinction is useful, too.)


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