Quotation Marks, Part 2

Bugposter

Sometimes we write a document in which we use a word in a way that differs from its more usual meaning. If you write that a location is filled with bugs, you need to put that word in quotation marks. Otherwise, people will be rushing to call an exterminator.

However, after the first use of bugs, omit the quotes for that word and for all other forms of it (bugged, bugging, etc.). You’ve already clued your readers in to the fact that you are referring to listening devices. No need to call an exterminator.

 

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When to Use Quotation Marks

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©Judi Birnberg  There Are Quotation Marks in Here Somewhere

Obviously, use quotation marks around the exact words (direct quotes) that someone spoke or wrote. Don’t go by what you see in ads: quotation marks are often used there to get your attention and for emphasis, but they are almost invariably used incorrectly. For instance:

EAT HERE! “Best hamburger in the universe!” Chances are, no one ever said those words  in quotes except possibly the mother of the cook.

If you are using an indirect quote, do not use quotation marks:

Rodney stated he had eaten the best hamburger in the world. 

Use quotation marks around song titles, names of TV shows, short poems, articles, and essays. Names of magazines, newspapers, and book titles are set in italics. Therefore, you would refer to The Atlantic and then to an article in the issue, “The Making of an Unexpected President.”

Newspapers have their own style guides, which seem to have adopted putting book and movie titles in initial capital letters, no quotation marks, no italics. Unless you are hired by a newspaper, use the rules I’m listing here.

I’ll cover more uses of quotation marks in my next few blog posts.

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What’s Wrong With These Sentences?

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© Judi Birnberg                     Here’s a collage I made when I was 16.

There is a million different reasons why you should finish your assignments as soon as possible.

Here is/Here’s the recipes for the cookbook your are compiling for our children’s school fundraiser.

I see and hear sentences like these frequently. They contain an agreement problem. The subjects of the sentences are reasons and recipes, respectively. Both are plurals. But the introductory parts, There is and Here is, are both singular. You’re going to need There are and Here are. You can also use There’s or Here’s if the subject is singular.

Incidentally, when sentences start with There is, There are, Here is, Here are, the subject is always going to be the first noun following those introductory clauses. The subjects are never There or Here. Therefore, if you use this construction, find the subject by looking at the first noun after it and use There is or There are and Here is or Here are accordingly. Easy, right?

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The Ides of March

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What is the ides, anyway? Nothing more than the Roman concept of a date near the middle of a month. For some months, such as March, the ides falls on the 15th; in other months it comes on the 18th. (A singular ide doesn’t exist. Don’t worry about it.)

Perhaps you are thinking, “Beware the ides of March,” a phrase you are likely familiar with. Shakespeare used it in his play Julius Caesar. Here’s the back story:

Julius Caesar, dictator of the Roman Empire, was murdered in a conspiracy on the ides of March in 44 BCE. Cassius Longinus initiated the plot and his brother-in-law, Marcus Brutus, joined him.

As Julius Caesar entered the Senate that day, he was given a note reportedly telling him to beware the ides of March, but he did not read it. He was soon surrounded by many senators armed with daggers. Casca was the first to strike, stabbing Caesar in the neck.

When Brutus stabbed Caesar in the groin, Caesar is said to have asked (in Greek), “You, too, my child?” You’re probably more familiar with Shakespeare’s version: “Et tu, Brute?”

After the assassination, Mark Antony tried to carry on Caesar’s role, but Caesar’s will had named Octavian, his adopted son, to take charge after him. Two years later, Brutus and Cassius committed suicide after Octavian’s forces defeated theirs at the Battle of Philippi, in Greece.

Now the thick plot gets even thicker: Antony moved his armies into Egypt, where Cleopatra, Caesar’s old lover, awaited him. Octavian’s and Mark Antony’s forces fought, with Octavian’s ultimately prevailing. In 30 BCE, Antony committed suicide. Octavian then became known as Augustus and ruled the Roman Empire for many years. As for Cleopatra, Shakespeare has her clutching an asp, a poisonous snake, to her breast and dying from its bite. Corpses abounded in the ancient world.

So there you have it. Remember, these events occurred  over 2000 years ago. Shakespeare used sources from the ancient world, but we can’t be certain of every detail and certainly not of what people said.

As for the Holy Roman Empire, my favorite quotation about it is from Voltaire, the French philosopher. He declared that it was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Trite Expressions

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TRITE—Overused, worn out, lacking in originality

Just about anything can be trite: art, music, dance, food (think kale salads). But this blog is concerned with language, so that’s what we’ll focus on today. Read through these trite expressions and then vow to avoid them whenever possible. It will always be possible; just think of straightforward alternatives. You can do it.

  • No sooner said than done
  • By hook or by crook
  • Busy as a bee
  • A bolt from the blue
  • Few and far between
  • In this day and age
  • Words fail me
  • By leaps and bounds
  • Better late than never
  • A good time was had by all
  • Breathed a sigh of relief
  • From the ridiculous to the sublime
  • It’s a small world
  • Life and limb
  • Sticks out like a sore thumb
  • To all intents and purposes
  • In the final analysis

In the final analysis, I hope you can see why it’s better to avoid these expressions.

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Proofreading for Me, Myself, Personally, and I

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Apparently, Steve Coogan has never seen himself as a paragon of good writing, either.

Have you ever heard another person say or write something similar to the following sentence?  I myself personally am opposed to the senator’s proposal.

I myself personally find that sentence exceedingly painful. It contains a triple redundancy. Get rid of the clutter. Say what you mean. Get in, get out.

Personal and its relative personally are often redundant. Why say you have close personal friends? If they’re close friends, obviously they are people you know well. When you state, “Personally, I enjoy skiing,” that’s the way you feel. Personally adds nothing but redundant clutter.

  • Proofreading involves more than looking for typos. Proofread for spelling errors, grammar and punctuation problems, content, awkward phrasing, redundancies, clichés, parallelism, jargon and slang. If that seems too much to look for on one go-through, proofread more than once, looking for just a few problems (or even one) at a time. Your readers will thank you, and your writing will show you to be a professional.

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Have you ever heard another person say or write something like the following?

 

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