We’d have a tough time surviving without quotation marks. As a famous writer once described, “Quotation marks allow us to identify what someone actually says, as opposed to simple statements being made by the writer.” Okay, I just made that quote up, but it illustrates one of the main reasons people use quotation marks. The other is to denote when something is being lifted from another source.
Some people overuse quotation marks for a third reason: to imply that something isn’t genuinely what it’s being represented to be. It’s the print equivalent of “air quotes.” For example, if I wrote that a necklace was made from “silver” or “real” silver, I’m implying that it’s actually an imitation. If I said that a particular political candidate is “smart,” I’m suggesting that she’s dumber than that proverbial box of rocks.
Since many people who use quotation marks freely don’t grasp that third use, they undermine the message they are trying to deliver. That’s particularly true in signage, websites, and advertising. If a company says it offers “quality” service, my brain tells me that their work is crap. If their ad proclaims Our Customers Are “Important” with those quotation marks, I assume they treat the customers poorly.
If you’re using quotation marks in that way, stop immediately. They aren’t providing any benefit, and they may actually hurt your messages.
Image (c) Konstantin Timoshchenko/Dreamstime