“Unnecessary” Quotation Marks

“I’m not arrogant, I’m pedantic. There’s a difference. Let me explain…”

— Seen on a T-Shirt.

For my birthday a few days ago, Ann gave me “The Book of ‘Unnecessary’ Quotation Marks.” She knows me too well. My obsession with inappropriate quotation mark usage goes back to my days working for Dartmouth College in the early 1990s. The person who was in charge of communications for our department was an abuser of the quotation mark. She, like so many, used them for emphasis and, while it is a bad habit and possibly forgivable in most people, it drove me crazy that someone who wrote and communicated for a living was making so blatant a grammatical error.

Not able to stand it any longer, I finally went to her and (quite pedantically) informed her that emphasis was best handled by italics or, less often, bold, or, even less often, bold and italics together, and, never, ever, with underlining. I was politely told that this was her profession and that she knew what she was doing.

I let the matter go with no small amount of effort. But in the years since, I chafe whenever I see quotation marks being used for evil and not good. Of course, I am older and wiser now and am more amused than annoyed because I have learned in my old age that if you can’t laugh at these things, then you are just doing it wrong. My favorite example now is the card scanner at Trader Joe’s that invites me to “Swipe my card” (sounds dirty when you put it in quotes like that) and to “Enter my PIN” (as if we are both in on the joke about what that really means), and so forth.

So, Ann, being a brilliant person who knows me far too well, buys me this wonderful little book with all kinds of “wonderful” examples of “inappropriate” uses of “quotation marks” and I cannot help but be “highly amused.”
A little later, we go out to lunch at Ted’s Montana Grill and I note in the menu that for dessert they have:

Homemade “Scratch” Cookies

Part of me suspected what was going on here but I wasn’t 100% certain. So, I asked the waitress if they really were from scratch or if they were being somehow ironic? She just stared at me, not understanding at all what I was asking. I thought about explaining and then I remembered all those years ago and just smiled and said, “Never mind. Chocolate Chip and Vanilla Ice Cream.”

The cookies were from scratch and “really delicious.”