28 Things Everybody Should Know, Part V

Quotation marks are for quotations, not slogans.

It took quite a long time for the English language to evolve into its present state. Hopefully, it’s still in the process. There are rules I’d love to see thrown out or changed, such as the proper spelling of judgement (that isn’t it) or the particularly nitpicky one about not beginning sentences with conjunctions. But this is about something different–where quotation marks do and do not belong.

We use quotation marks for several reasons: to show that we are citing exactly what someone has said, to declare ironic usage of a word or phrase, to signify nicknames, and to indicate song and chapter titles in albums and books.

Where do quotes not belong? First and foremost, company mottos and mantras. The reason isn’t so much that they’re unnecessary (although they are) but because, as stated above, one usage of quotes is to show irony, or inform others that you’re joking.

“It was my friend’s birthday, so I had to get him a card. But I was mad at him, so I put quotes around the word happy.”

This was a line from Demetri Martin’s These Are Jokes. It illustrates the very reason why we don’t use them in company slogans. To do so says, effectively, “I’m joking about this part.” Basically, you’re saying the opposite.

I saw this on a high seat in a restaurant. I’ll ignore its selective use of capitals, complete lack of punctuation, awkward balance and inconsistent linespacing, but the quotes serve absolutely no purpose. It took slightly more effort to add them for no improvement in clarity or impact. I think the reason we see this sort of thing so often is because the quotes, in this case, don’t hinder the message either. They’re just there.

I wish I could have grabbed a picture of the sign that used to be up at the convenience store near my house:



Quotation marks misused in company slogans are not only a source of humor and slight irritation, but they’re a often good way of distinguishing the more professional companies from those that don’t read into how users will take to their message. Nike, McDonald’s, Microsoft . . . we’ve seen them and their mantras a thousand times in a thousand places, but never do we see them in quotes–because nobody is literally saying it. It’s more of an attitude than something that must be voiced.

Like I said earlier, our language is always shifting. A hundred, even fifty years ago, you would have found quotes all over advertisements. Like the idea of dangling prepositions, it’s just something you have to let go of.


2 Responses to “28 Things Everybody Should Know, Part V”

  1. 1 Luke November 20, 2009 at 2:12 am

    um … just stumbled upon your blog and found myself laughing hysterically and empathetically. i have noticed or noted or even ranted to family and friends about so many of these same things. great minds, i guess, right?

    anyway, it made me sad to see ZERO comments on this brilliant piece from almost 10 months ago. that’s just wrong.

    whoever you are, dude, you rule. thanks for sharing – you really brightened my day, and i will share your ’28 things’ broadly.


    • 2 maxticket November 20, 2009 at 8:21 am

      Thanks for the comment. The 28 Things posts are relatively unnoticed because I haven’t been promoting it at all. I’ve had dreams of publishing it all as a book, and continuing the series with other authors (28 Things Every Mechanic Should Know, Every Parent, Every Teenager, etc) but I’ve been too busy/lazy to really follow through with the idea. I know a lot of publishers won’t touch something that’s already been published, so if I ever really pursue that, I’d probably take all these posts down, just so I don’t disqualify myself. I don’t know.

      I really like the menu on your site. I’m gonna go browse your content tonight. Thanks again for speaking up. I’ll make sure to follow your stuff and maybe Twitter if I can find you there.

      Clifton / @maxticket

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