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Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Origin of Those Silly Quotes?

We all have heard thew numerous complaints about people using quotation marks for emphasis. But I was just struck by a plausible notion of how this started. I was looking at a sign that included some trade-marked phrase, e.g., try new Tried Detergent with miracle "super-whitening doodads". I occurred to me that people could have seen this use, and, not understanding the quotes indicated a trade-marked phrase, have thought that they were there for emphasis.

Any thoughts?

3 comments:

  1. I don't have an answer for your question, but your explanation seems plausible. I see a parallel to e.g. the claim that "It costs an arm and a leg" originated from artists charging more for portaits that included an arm and a leg. Most people wouldn't have understood the reference to portaits because those are expensive, and the idiom picked up because people understood it as "It costs you something valuable" because an arm and a leg are the last things you'd give up.

    Incidentally, did you have in mind sites like these, that make fun of signs that use unnecessary quotation marks? I've found the site really funny because of what happens when you read the quotation marks as scare quotes. E.g., "Try our new 'bacon' wraps!" = "Um, it's not really bacon"

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  2. Andy Stedman3:57 PM

    I've seen that site before, Silas. It "literally" had me rolling on the floor laughing.

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  3. Welcome back, Silas!

    I didn't have any site in mind, just the shop signs I see every day.

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