A change for the “better”

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It still amazes me that I see blatant grammatical errors in ad copy. Now, every once in a while, some tiny faux pas (like writing were instead of we’re, or only using one m in accommodate) sneaks past the eagle-eyed proofreaders or the omnipotent Word® spellchecker. These things happen. And, as a writer, my punishment is that my mistakes find immortality as symbols of carelessness on the permanently printed page. Plus, my boss gives me a bunch of crap about it.

But those are unintentional and, to some extent, understandable errors. The blunder that bothers me the most is completely unforgivable: the use of unnecessary quotation marks.

Pardon me…the use of “unnecessary” quotation marks.

Granted, this occurs much more frequently on handmade signs in restrooms or on whiteboards scribbled with neon erasable ink at mom & pop restaurants than in a formal advertising media. But as vehicles that communicate between a business and a customer, these executions should be held to the same standards as a full-page ad on the inside cover of Syntax Digest.

I’m sure the intention is to add emphasis to a key word that stands as the cornerstone to the entire message’s foundation. But does anyone actually read them that way? I see the quoted word as having significantly less credibility, as if someone is trying to pull a fast one on me. For example:

Made with real “milk”
In no way do I believe that milk – at least what I consider to be milk – is actually a part of whatever you’re selling me.

And sometimes the quoted word can appear anywhere within the sentence, dramatically changing the overall meaning:

“Employees” must wash hands

Employees “must” wash hands

Employees must “wash” hands

Employees must wash “hands”

See what I mean? Some of those are downright creepy. So I’m calling for a moratorium on all unnecessary quotation marks. This should help us to fully understand the true intent of messages. And, hopefully, it will ensure that all employees re-enter the kitchen with properly cleaned hands.


  • March 1, 2013, 12:45 pm  Reply

    It’s refreshing to see someone stand up and fight the unneeded and improper use of quotation marks, especially in the advertising realm. I deal with this all the time in my work and have to remind people that what you put in quotes either better have been said directly by someone or you better be trying to pull a fast one on somebody. I tell them to envision yourself saying it, but using air quotes when you say the words in quotes.

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