Dear “Awesome Children”: The Use and Misuse of Quotation Marks

In our recent Hired Pens commercial, “Graham R.” takes us on a trip to his neighborhood Chicken Shack to explain the problems that can arise from the misuse of quotation marks. The commercial got a big response, including some funny real-life examples. None was better than this card a friend of ours received: 

Dear “Awesome Children”….

Thank you so very much for not only the beautiful Floral Arrangement, but also for the element of “Surprise” …. You are GREAT …..

Sending you my “Unconditional Love Always”


Clearly, this card left my friend with several disconcerting questions to ponder:

  •        Was her mother actually surprised or just faking it?
  •        Did Mom really think her children were awesome?
  •        And, most importantly, was she being sarcastic when she offered her unconditional love?

Of course, moms can get away with this kind of thing. Especially moms who send such “thoughtful” cards. But you know who can’t get away with it? Everyone else. So in case you missed the commercial, here’s a quick reminder:

If you put something in quotation marks when you aren’t actually quoting someone, you’re negating that statement with imaginary sarcastic air quotes. “Yeah, I am ‘really excited’ to pay my taxes this year.” “No, really! I ‘can’t wait’ to babysit for your sister’s colicky infant during my one week off this year.”

And if you are a client and you still want to put words in quotation marks – even after we’ve patiently explained, then begged and pleaded with you to do the right thing – we’ll do it … as long as you don’t mind being “gently” chided on our blog. Case in point:

Me: Why is this in quotes?

Client: I like quotes.

Me, explaining gently: But having it in quotes means it’s something someone said.

Client: But I like quotes.

Me, trying not to sigh too deeply: I know, but it’s going to confuse your clients.

Client: But I like quotes. They make it pop. Otherwise it gets lost.

Me, trying a new angle: What if we used it as a subhead in bold face?

Client: I don’t know …

Me: Why don’t you let me try it and then you can decide?

Client, reluctantly: Okay …

The client ultimately called the designer and had him change it back to quotation marks. Which is “fine with me.”*

* In case you’re still unclear, by using quotation marks I mean to imply I am still mad about it.

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6 replies
  1. Jake says:

    I like to use quotes when I mean a different word than the one I am quoting, but the word I want to use would be improper, offensive, or defamatory. As in:

    He’s done a lot of on the job “training” (Read: he’s sleeping with his boss).

    His “niece” seemed awfully friendly (Read: He’s actually sleeping with that woman half his age, and by the way, I think she’s kind of a tramp).

    And… After a few drinks Beth decided to share her “thoughts” on diversity (Read: In addition to having a drinking problem, Beth is also a racist).

    Is that a proper use for quotes? Maybe I just like quotes.

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