Tag Archives: Moscow

Lose the Quotes!

Here’s a sentence in an email from a friend. What do you think of his use of quotation marks?

[Tom]  spent the summer in Buenos Aires doing a practicum with the poor, ensuring clean water is getting to their “shanty” homes.

If these people are poor and living in Buenos Aires, their homes are shanties. But the use of quotation marks indicates that they really aren’t. The word “shanty” is certainly not being quoted. Calling attention to a word by putting it in quotes is not an acceptable use.

• Use quotation marks around words actually spoken or written by someone.

• Use quotation marks when you are using a word in a manner that is not literal. For example, you could write that the previous American Embassy in Moscow was found to be full of “bugs.” Your reader will then know that you are not referring to cockroaches and that “bugs” is slang for listening devices.

Every day I see quotation marks misused. Painted on a plumber’s truck is information telling me he has been “in business since 1973.” No one ever said that. Misused quotation marks are a distraction. Don’t annoy your readers.





Filed under All things having to do with the English language

Learning a New Language

Hello again. Dobre utro. I have just returned from a wonderful two weeks in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Russia is a fascinating country, and I had not nearly enough time to see all I wanted in just those two cities.

As a lover of language, I was both fascinated and frustrated by trying to read Russian signs, which are written in the Cyrillic alphabet. My frustration made me appreciate all the more how difficult it must be for learners of English whose native language is written either in characters, such as Chinese, Japanese and Korean, or in a completely different script, such as Armenian and Arabic.

The Cyrillic alphabet contains 33 letters. Some correspond to English letters: M, A, O, T and K are the same. Other letters look nothing like our Latin ones: ж = “zh” as in “measure, Д = “d” as in “door,” and З (yes, that’s a letter) = “z” as in “zebra.” Look at this word: MAKДOHAЛД’C. Can you figure out what it is?  It’s a PECTOPAH (restaurant), and the biggest one in the world is in Moscow. Yep, it’s MacDonald’s.

Right now I’m trying to adjust to the 11-hour time zone difference and getting my eyes to focus on English words, with renewed admiration for those people for whom English originally looked the way Cyrillic looks to me.

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Filed under All things having to do with the English language