Pardon me while I ask a trivial question

by John Holbo on June 15, 2009

While we all wonder what is going to happen in Iran, a trivial question: what are single quotes for?

I just got my Plato book [yes, you can read the whole thing!] ms. back from Pearson for final-final-final corrections and it’s clear the proofreader is not a philosopher. That’s actually not a bad thing, since it means fresh eyes about some things. One thing I’m not sure about: I’m being told not to use single-quotes. Since there are a number of places where I definitely need them for use-mention purposes, I’m going to have to put my foot down. This probably means I should announce to the reader what the convention is. But then I have to state it and, the truth is, I also use ‘scare quotes’ – single-quotes to indicate that there’s something questionable or problematic about a term or phrase. There are a few bits where I briefly conjure a bit of hypothetical dialogue and use single quotes to make it look more speech-like. Looking at all these red marks, I gotta clean up my act. Maybe the proper thing to do is restrict myself to necessary use-mention uses and don’t use the things for anything else. What is your preference, if any? (I don’t mean just about my book. In general. What are single-quotes for?)



John S. Wilkins 06.15.09 at 2:39 pm

Single quotes have one purpose – to nest quotes in quotes. “He said, ‘Hello’.”

One should use a particular convention (either single quotes throughout, or double quotes throughout, as per house style) for all quoted text. Scare quotes are no more significant than use-mention or proper quotation. That’s pretty much the standard in all publishing.


Matt 06.15.09 at 2:41 pm

What are single-quotes for?

Do you mean other than for when you have embedded quotation marks? That’s the only time I use them, or at least the main time.


Rich B. 06.15.09 at 2:42 pm

Single quotation marks are only necessary for quotes-within-quotes. Use/mention, scare quotes, hypothetical dialogue etc. can all be regular quotation marks. You are trying to construct a distinction that is neither natural nor necessary, as there are more than two or three things that quotation marks can be used for.


John Holbo 06.15.09 at 2:48 pm

Just to be clear: I also use them for quotes within quotes, obviously.


John Holbo 06.15.09 at 2:50 pm

And the proofreader isn’t suggesting that single quotes aren’t good for quotes within quotes, obviously.


Lee 06.15.09 at 2:55 pm

Interestingly, the Chicago Manula of Style favors double quotes (apart from the obvious quote-within-a-quote use), but adds, in regard to scare-quotes and the like:

“In works of philosophy, single quotation marks are sometimes used for similar purposes, but Chicago discourages that practice unless it is essential to the author’s argument and not confusing to readers. ”

No explanation why philosophy is special in this regard.


belle le triste 06.15.09 at 2:59 pm

A: If you feel you need to use scarequotes, spell out the point you’re making in words — if it seems heavyhanded to do this, cut the scarequotes.

B: Imagine yourself reading the passage out aloud, making the relevant air-gesture (twice, and dipping your hands as well as your fingers) everytime you’ve used it in print. If your impression of yourself is now “insufferable kn0b”, cut back on them.

C: Repeat B, except say “you and your so-called” instead of the air-gesture.


Robert 06.15.09 at 2:59 pm

“To mention Boston we use ‘Boston’ or a synonym, and to mention ‘Boston’ we use ‘ ‘Boston’ ’ or a synonym. ‘ ‘Boston’ ’ contains six letters and just one pair of quotation marks; ‘Boston’ contains six letters and no quotation marks; and Boston contains some 800,000 people.”

W. V. Quine, (1981), Mathematical Logic


Stephen Downes 06.15.09 at 3:14 pm

I tend to use single quotes when I’m talking about the word, and double quotes when I’m quoting someone. I prefer to use single quotes for this purpose because the use of double quotes might suggest I am interpreting someone else’s use of the word.

Not sure how the stylists feel about that; that’s just how I do it.


Chris Bertram 06.15.09 at 3:23 pm

Interestingly, US and UK publishers seem to diverge on quotes within quotes, though I’m sure there’s also some within-country variation.

Lots of UK publishers have someone saying, ‘Hegel remarks somewhere, “the great events and personages …” .’

(yes I know that’s a misquote!)


John Holbo 06.15.09 at 3:26 pm

I definitely need the Quine usage for chapter 3. So I have to declare it because beginners will hardly know it. The question is really whether that debars me from any other use besides quotes within quotes.


John Holbo 06.15.09 at 3:32 pm

Probably if the publisher doesn’t want me to use it for anything else, the answer is just: yes.

I’m ok with that. (But I am still interested in general preferences. Carry on.)


Felix 06.15.09 at 3:41 pm

I don’t think there’s any reason to use scare quotes. If the use is so divergent that it basically creates a new word, then just create a new word. If the use is close enough that it’s the same word, then the quotes are unnecessary. The hypothetical dialog, I think should just use double quotes if regular quoting would.

In general, I think if you’re planning on drawing a distinction between single and double quotes, you should make it fence one paddock off. Otherwise at some point it looks arbitrary (your hypothetical dialog distinction does to me), and then why make a distinction?


David Wright 06.15.09 at 3:51 pm

There is a difference between scare quotes and the Quine convention. In any case, most people use double-quotes in both cases nowadays.


John Holbo 06.15.09 at 4:10 pm

There sure is a difference between scare and Quine, that’s my whole dilemma. Is it really true that philosophers have moved to double-quotes for use-mention? I guess I’ve failed to notice. Maybe I read too much old stuff.


Jacob T. Levy 06.15.09 at 4:48 pm

I agree with what seems to be the non-philosophers’ consensus: the only use of single quotes is for quotes-within-quotes, and in general quotations and scare-quotes get the same treatment. (I can’t think of a time when I’ve had to play with use-mention quotes, so I don’t think I have an established practice on which I can report.)


Tim Wilkinson 06.15.09 at 5:04 pm

If you really want to mess with them, how about occasionally using corner quotes to refer to an intension?

Given that opening and closing quotes are distinguishable, there isn’t any strict need for a typographical distinction between nested (nested-to-odd-depth?) and unnested (nested-to-even-depth-including-zero?) quotes.

Personally, I’m kind of with #9 – I use double quotes for reporting the very words spoken or written on some actual or non-actual occasion (sentence-tokens?), and single quotes for everything else I can currently think of. I had no idea this wasn’t considered OK. Don’t UK newspapers do something like this, particularly for headlines?

Agree with the general opinion that scare quotes (not mention-quotes) are a bit crap, though I’d use them for informal purposes to avoid longwinded circumlocations.

But OTOH, care quotes are mostly used (aren’t they?) for circs in which the word is one commonly used, or used in the salient context, and in which its reference is maintained but the sense, or the kind of content described as ‘thick’, is not wholly endorsed – and often to draw attention to those facts too. So it’s a kind of combination of use and mention. And as there, I’m not quite sure that even locutions such as ‘what is known as..’ can quite do without quotes. And ‘so-called’ without quotes is a bit of a funny one partly because the combined use and mention remains, and partly on the practica grounds that there may be a tendency not to see what is grammatically a modifying adjective as actually (some kind of modal operator?) repudiating the sense/thick content. A bit like:

Lifecycle of a ‘terrorist’:
potential terrorist
aspiring terrorist
suspected terrorist
alleged terrorist
accused terrorist (my own one this)
convicted terrorist (to be fair probably does usually imply actual terrorist)
[freed terrorism convict?]

If a principled distinction were to be made, I suppose double quotes might be used for strict mention and direct speech, i.e. where the context is entirely opaque, and singles for circs in which the word is being used (for reference?) as well as mentioned (for sense?). Though then in-line quotes like: He said that Majewski ‘had been on a massive binge’ where the content is incorporated into the sentence would have to use singles even though they are direct speech…

And what about the practice of putting commas and full stops from the containing sentence inside the quotation marks, as in “Judge not,” admonished Jaques, “lest ye form an opinion.” What’s that all about?


Tim Wilkinson 06.15.09 at 5:09 pm

(For endurance-readers: 2nd-to-last para above is a bit wrong (I think), as confuses mention of sense with mention of actual words spoken.)


NomadUK 06.15.09 at 5:18 pm

I’m sorry, but we’re talking US convention, yes? A quick scan through all the UK-published books on my shelf shows them all using inverted commas, or single quotation marks, for primary quotations, which is pretty much what I would expect.

On the other hand, I’ve begun to notice a distressing tendency of the major UK news publications — at least the on-line ones — to use double quotation marks, which is really starting to annoy me. Next thing you know, they’ll be misspelling ‘colour’ and ‘eulogise’.


David Wright 06.15.09 at 5:44 pm

John @ 15: I didn’t mean to claim expertise on special philosophical disciplinary convenentions. Since this book is aimed at a non-specialist audience, though, I think there is a good argument for using the common conventions, even if the convention among philosophers of language differs.


Eszter Hargittai 06.15.09 at 6:28 pm

I agree with the comments about the only use pertaining to quotes withing quotes. I also like the approach suggested in #7.

My one experience with confusion about quotes comes from wanting to reference people’s Web searches in papers. The first approach that comes to mind in such a situation is to use quotes around the search terms. However, since quotes can be used as part of a search query, that may be confusing. (And since a lot my writing is about Internet user skill and use of quotes often suggests higher-level skill, I don’t want this to be confusing.) I have approached this in different ways, but have basically avoided use of quotes in such cases. I either italicize the search query terms or put the less-than and greater-than signs around it.

Finally, not to derail discussion, but the point Tim Wilkinson brings up about the placement of commas and periods within quotes when they are not part of the quote has always confused me. Are they really supposed to be within the quote? If yes, why? This also relates to – it seems – the placement of end-of-sentence periods within a close-paren even when the entire sentence wasn’t in parentheses. Why is that so?


P.D. Magnus 06.15.09 at 6:32 pm

I generally think that scare quotes are sloppy and should be avoided. If you want to draw attention to a phrase, use italics.

Mock quotations, so as to suggest dialogue, may use double quotes. “Surely you can’t mean that!” Yes, I can.

Single quotes should be used for mention (contra use). It’s important to distinguish between mentioning a phrase and attributing the phrase to someone.

At least, that’s what I do when I write philosophy.


belle le triste 06.15.09 at 6:41 pm

Eszter: it is for the sake of tidiness. If the stop is not carefully tucked under the end of the paranthesis or quote it will likely roll away and litter some other bit of the page.


Jim 06.15.09 at 6:45 pm

Most have already chimed in with what I would say, as an editor that cares about authorial voice over “house style” here’s the advice I would offer were you the author on a project I was assigned:

Quotation marks have relatively simple and straightforward uses that most people are comfortable with. Feel free to modify them if you feel you must, but realize that you will be challenging your readers until such point as they get used to your specific quirk. If you feel its absolutely necessary to warn your readers that your made up dialog is made up, then let’s do it. I, however, recommend not distracting your readers from the text just to make a grammatical point. The established rules here, in my opinion, better serve your aim than this personal choice.

The flip side of this, of course, is that most people can adapt pretty quickly to abnormal quote choices. Some authors italicize all dialog (often to draw attention to the fact that it is paraphrased from memory). Some authors, especially in fiction, don’t use quotation marks at all. Some don’t give new lines for separate quotes. Readers seem to be more forgiving individualized quotation choices as long as the intent is decipherable.


tony 06.15.09 at 7:18 pm

I’m a US reader, and I have to confess I’m a bit surprised at how overwhelming the support is (at least amongst my compatriots) for “double quotes except for nested quotations.” Clearly this is my philosophical bias, but I side with #9 and #17: double quotes are for actual quotations; single quotes for various other (mostly philosophical) usages. But more than just reiterate the position, I’m curious about why people are so adamant about the aversion to single-quotes (other than simple adherence to style guides). The comments seem to suggest something like Rich (#3)’s rationale: “You are trying to construct a distinction that is neither natural nor necessary, as there are more than two or three things that quotation marks can be used for.” But it seems odd to me to say “double quotes can be used for more than one thing; ergo, they should be used for everything you would want to use quotes for.” In the case of use/mention, we have a convention amongst a community of language users which 1. is clear to all such users and 2. little affects the wider convention about the usage of double quotes. I’m curious why style editors would really care one way or another about what symbol philosophers use for their notation.


JoB 06.15.09 at 7:38 pm

Yeah, what’s the ‘issue’ here? Why are they telling you “not to use single-quotes”.?


jamie 06.15.09 at 7:38 pm

Back on topic, my all time favourite election fixing attempt was Ferdinand Marcos using lepers as poll clerks in opposition dominated districts of Manila during the Philippines elections in 1985, as related in James Hamilton Paterson’s America’s Boy. Didn’t work, as it happens.


sirhcton 06.15.09 at 8:00 pm

Perhaps it is my anachronistic usage, but I do recall learning that American and British use of quotation marks were opposites: Americans use double quotes first and single quotes within; the British do the reverse. When I learned English grammar, my teachers favored what might be considered conservative usage, even at the time. Single quotes as some other, special form do not come to mind, save for something so esoteric (and forgotten) that I would not bet more than a dime on it. As for “scare quotes,” I do not remember the term used other than in what I interpreted as a pejorative sense. I do remember learning that others’ words enclosed in quotes could be seen as bringing attention to their possibly unconventional use (or mis-use), or some other editorial opinion short of the word “sic,” as well as empasizing that their actual words were being quoted. I freely admit to not having examined a manual of style in decades.


Anderson 06.15.09 at 8:13 pm

No explanation why philosophy is special in this regard.

Surely the answer can’t be so goofy as that the Brits writing about use-mention issues, being British, used single quotes, and the Americans, slavishly following them, used single quotes too?


jim 06.15.09 at 8:16 pm

The British usage: ‘inverted commas’ seems wrong. Only one of them is inverted. The other is the right way up.


Anderson 06.15.09 at 8:27 pm

The other is the right way up.

But too high up. An “elated comma.”


Tim Wilkinson 06.15.09 at 9:25 pm

Only one of them is inverted the closing quote is inverted a second time. Rotated, really.


Anderson 06.15.09 at 9:46 pm

No, my gaydar would totally have gone off if that second comma were really inverted.


dr 06.15.09 at 9:46 pm

Single quotes for a mention was still being taught to philosophy grads in the U.S. as recently as the last few years. I honestly think you would confuse sophisticated readers were you to adopt a double quote convention. For what it’s worth, I think the use/mention distinction often takes non-philosophers by surprise and that it might be a good idea to use introducing the convention as a round about way of introducing the distinction itself.


SusanC 06.15.09 at 10:42 pm

I’d only use single-quotes for nested quotations, and double quotes for everything else, including the string “Boston”.

I’d think it OK if a book reversed the convention and used double quotes for nested quotations and single quotes for everything else. Many old British books do this.

If I was programming, I’d write

static char *str = "\”Boston\””;

I see the problem that if you really need to mention “Boston”, “‘Boston’” is potentially confusing, because the mentioned string actually starts with a double quote, not a single quote. But then,in the C example, str doesn’t contain a backslash either – there’s an understanding that the nested quotes get transformed.


engels 06.15.09 at 10:46 pm

Well, I looked at this and thought I’d open a page of a book a random, which was page 9 of Davidson’s Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation, and which appropriately enough has this:

Quine says, ‘The name of a name or other expression is commonly formed by putting the named expression in single quotation marks … the whole, called a quotation/i>, denotes its interior’; Tarski says essentially the same thing.

So I reckon yer wrong.


SusanC 06.15.09 at 10:49 pm

Drat. What I wrote was mangled by the web site.

I meant to say:

static char *str = "\"Boston\"";


engels 06.15.09 at 10:50 pm

Quine says, ‘The name of a name or other expression is commonly formed by putting the named expression in single quotation marks … the whole, called a quotation, denotes its interior’; Tarski says essentially the same thing.

(‘Yer wrong’, of course, being addressed to the Holb and the commenter majority, not DR.)


Anderson 06.15.09 at 10:53 pm

Engels fails to consider how analytic philosophy may have been shackled for decades by confining itself to single quotation marks. Made of inverted commas, at that — alert James Dobson!


Jamie 06.15.09 at 10:59 pm

I’m with 9, 17, 25, to wit: I follow the American usage (I’m American philosopher) but use single quotes to mention an expression that I’m not quoting.


SusanC 06.15.09 at 11:11 pm

In particular, in chapter 3 of your Plato book I’d have used double quotes in most (perhaps all, though I havent checked all of them) places where you’ve used a single quote.

Second, Plato insists that the forms are ‘self-predicating’.

That’s quoting Plato, so I’d give it double quotes like your other quotations.

How many letters in the phrase ‘dancing cow’?

That sentence is talking about the string “dancing cow” (as opposed to a dancing cow), and it isn’t quoting anyone, but I’d still give it double quotes.


Nur al-Cubicle 06.15.09 at 11:11 pm

Wikipedia suggests there may be some kind of publisher’s software issue, i.e. this software has trouble determining whether the single quote is an apostrophe. Nah. That would be too simple…


Deliasmith 06.15.09 at 11:23 pm

The oracle:
‘In British style, single quotes are normally used, except for quotations within quotations … The standard US style is double quotes, with single within double. … Some authors have their own system of quotation marks, which they are anxious to retain; for example … double quotes for quotations and single quotes for words or phrases used in a special sense. Try to persuade your author not to do this, as it can be more confusing than helpful.’
Judith Butcher, top copy editor of the world, in Butcher’s copy editing, CUP.

To be fair, after this typically clear, sensible, Grenfellian prescription [‘Willard, don’t do that.’], Judith does relent, at least to the extent of listing four usages that may be used, tolerated anyway, ‘in more complex books’.


Jeff R. 06.15.09 at 11:33 pm

Single Quotes are for when you don’t want the interpreter to expand variable names.

(Philosophy would be, if not better, certainly a bit more interesting, if it were routinely done in perl…)


SusanC 06.16.09 at 12:32 am

John’s Plato book is a great source of tricky cases. From p. 42:

There are many individual tokens of the letter e on this page.

I would say that’s a mention of “e”, but it’s been marked with bold face rather than (single or double) quotation marks.

“token” is also in bold. It’s being emphasized, but the bold also has a quote-like function (in effect, saying, “things that are called ‘tokens’”.)

Second, Plato insists that the forms are ‘self-predicating’.

If this was meant to be read as a quotation of Plato, I’d have used double quotes. But if it’s just a mention of the term “self-predicating” (perhaps introduced by commentators on Plato via the Latin “predicare” …) putting it in bold might have been clearer.


John Quiggin 06.16.09 at 12:38 am

There’s a quite different convention in newspapers. Roughly speaking, single quotes are used when a snippet of someone’s speech is used (often tendentiously, and not always in the form of an exact though partial quote) in a headline, while double quotes are used for actual quotations. So, for example, the headline might read

Socrates ‘Athenian gadfly’: Plato

while the text would have the full quotation.


John S. Wilkins 06.16.09 at 12:53 am

These matters are set by house style, so go with the editor’s strictures, but have you thought of using European quotes for the use-mention matter? «This» is mentioned, while this is used…

The British style is that punctuation goes inside the quotes only when the punctuation was part of the text quoted. American style appears to be that punctuation always goes within the quote. The British style is more rational, as it makes clear what the original text was.


mollymooly 06.16.09 at 1:35 am

Double-quotes as default is easier for computers, since ASCII doesn’t distinguish an apostrophe from a right single-quote.
"this phrase" is the same as
'this phrase';
but whereas
"this phrase's apostrophe" can be accommodated,
'this phrase's apostrophe' confuses some parsers.


Davis X. Machina 06.16.09 at 1:47 am

Many old British books do this.

Not just old ones. My sharp-eyed students noticed that the 1999 Americanized edition of the Oxford Latin Course uses single quotes for quotations, and only uses double quotes for nested quotations


Chris Stephens 06.16.09 at 1:59 am

The use-mention discussion reminds me of a famous anecdote: apparently, David Kaplan once gave Quine a gift, and Quine was apparently genuinely touched. Kaplan replied “Use it, Don’t mention it.”


self exile 06.16.09 at 4:03 am

This falls somewhere on the importance scale of do you eat your boogers, do you wipe them on your socks or do you pull out your handkerchief and carefully wipe them off, when you have formalized that question of the ages then start worrying about single quotes.


Jim Birch 06.16.09 at 4:58 am

A selected succession of scare quotes can produce a strong, succinct, and even elegant, critique when the quotes are fair to the intent of the original author. Word choice can be more illuminating than bare meaning at times. However, I need to trust the author for the technique to work with me; it is widely misused by partisans.


Tim Wilkinson 06.16.09 at 10:39 am

[self exile @51 division of labour – you cover the choice between your strange trichotomy of vile practices, we’ll do the single quote stuff. Just one helpful pointer, though – you might want to step back and distinguish between snot and bogies (=boogers?). I’d recommend dealing with things quickly and decisively, at the liquid stage.]

Scare-quotes: using a word with reservations. Why? Initial very rough thoughts, descriptive not approbative:

1. It is someone else’s usage (but you are not quoting any particular utterance)
2. It is the natural or even only word to use to refer to something, but you do not want to endorse some aspect of its meaning (construe broadly).
3. It is a term or usage new to your audience and you want to draw attention to it/that fact.
4. You are in the course of asserting that a word has no sense or null extension, e.g. the not-true There is no ‘truth’.
Any of these could be avoided by restatement – though it may be necessary to retain mention-quotes.

Would a complete worked-out policy on quotes for philosophy/linguistics need also to comprehend the use of bold and italics? I have sometimes enountered the problem of nesting those, too (italics anyway)…does Chicago have anything to say on that, or indeed on quotes nested to depth>1?

Since use and mention can be combined by use of scare-quotes or in-line quotes (or indeed without use of quotes as in ‘Rufus was so-called because of his hair-colour’), can we analyse such combination into use/mention of, say, words, sense, reference? I think use of a word may entail use of its sense, but not sure about other entailments. Not even sure that this approach doesn’t rest on an error.

Perhaps ‘attributive mention’ is a category worth adding to ‘use’ and ‘mention’.

First rough speculative draft of a possible line of analysis with very tentatively suggested values (Though I now think this is all wrong and actually ‘needs’ to be reconceived…):

(Need to add category of ‘repudiation’ on the use/mention axis? Maybe add thick content/connotations/overtones/implicatures to its objects? get out more…)

W=word/phrase/sentence; S=sense; R=reference.
U=use; M=mention; A=attributive mention; N=null/none; ?=definitely dunno.

They abused me with the word 'idiot'. . . . . . . . . . . W:M S:N R:N
'You are an idiot', they chanted. . . . . . . . . . . . . W:A S:? R:?
I was met with taunts of 'idiot'. . . . . . . . . . . . . W:A S:? R:N
They called me 'idiot'. (usage?). . . . . . . . . . . . . W:A S:? R:N
They called me 'Idiot'. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . W:M S:N R:N
They addressed me as 'idiot'. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . W:A S:N R:N
They called me an 'idiot'.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . W:A S:? R:N
That 'idiot' was me.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . W:A S:A R:U
The 'idiot' they referred to was me.. . . . . . . . . . . W:A S:? R:U
That 'idiot' (as they put it) was me. . . . . . . . . . . W:M S:A R:U
That so-called 'idiot' was me.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . W:A S:A R:U
An 'idiot' is often just someone one disagrees with.. . . W:M S:M R:N
He is an 'idiot savant', or wise fool.. . . . . . . . . . W:U S:U R:N
In Victorian usage, an 'idiot' fell between
. . a 'moron' and an 'imbecile' in intelligence.. . . . . W:M S:M R:N
They said that she was 'an idiot on stilts'.. . . . . . . W:A S:A R:N
They said that she was 'an idiot on stilts',
. . whatever that is supposed to mean.. . . . . . . . . . W:A S:N R:N
They said that she was an 'idiot', meaning 'savant' . . . W:A S:N R:N
Hoffman mugged his way through the 'idiot savant' role
. . . and was rewarded with the inevitable Oscar. . . . . W:U S:U R:?

Maybe I'm naive or even an 'idiot'. . . . . . . . . . . . W:M S:U R:N


Tim Wilkinson 06.16.09 at 10:49 am

On nested italics: having thought about it, you sometimes see it in citations and the (sensible) practice seems to be that double italics work like double negatives in standard English, and cancel out.


mijnheer 06.17.09 at 2:23 am

I second what John S. Wilkins says: “The British style is that punctuation goes inside the quotes only when the punctuation was part of the text quoted. … The British style is more rational, as it makes clear what the original text was.” I find the U.S. style illogical and irritating. But I suppose there are (probably) more important things in life to worry about.


Steven A. Jauss 06.17.09 at 1:52 pm

Quine’s proposal about how quotation marks should be used seems to have a lot of proponents yet–at least in philosophy and in spite of what seems to me growing resistance from publishers. However, as some readers here know, the theory of quotation Quine seems to ground his recommendations on (the so-called proper name theory) is widely discredited. (As the authors of the relevant Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article report, “it is no longer defended by anyone and there is even some debate about whether Quine and Tarski ever held the view.”) And deviating from Quine’s recommendations might seem less wrongheaded from the perspective of certain alternatives to the proper name theory. The SEP article is a good place to start here, for those curious about the very lively debates about quotation in philosophy of language.


Salient 06.17.09 at 8:57 pm

Two three thoughts:

* It’s a student text, so I’d prefer the word + single quotes for use-mention and double quotes for in-line quotation: We know the word ‘kettle’ has six letters.

* I don’t think scare quotes should be used in a student text. If someone else is using a word problematically, use double quotes to indicate you’re quoting them, just as you’d use scare quotes. If there’s no reference to a third party who is supporting the problematic definition, there’s no need for scare quotes.

* It’s unbelievably hard to type “scare quotes” without encasing the phrase in scare quotes.


Salient 06.17.09 at 9:04 pm

Three advantages to using the phrase ‘the word’ immediately before stating it: (1) many of your students will pick up on the single-quote convention without you having to explicitly explain the punctuation, (2) it ensures clarity even if a student only reads chapter 4 and skips the paragraph in chapter 1 introducing the convention, and (3) it indoctrinates the students reading your book into accepting and using the single-use punctuation by imprinting them with it at an impressionable age. :-)

Hopefully I punctuated “the word” correctly in the above sentence. Sheeeesh.


Dr Zen 06.18.09 at 2:50 am

I’m an editor. If you don’t use the same quotes for all usages, I’ll correct you so that you do. If you use single quotes for one thing and double quotes for another, I’ll consider you a buffoon. If you don’t mind being the object of mockery, carry on with it.

For URLs and web searches, angled brackets are a good compromise.


KCinDC 06.18.09 at 3:50 am

This also relates to – it seems – the placement of end-of-sentence periods within a close-paren even when the entire sentence wasn’t in parentheses.

Not in any style I encountered in several years as an American copyeditor, Eszter—though I’ve seen some writing by people who believed that was the rule. I believe it’s just a result of getting confused about the rule for quotation marks. The period goes inside the parentheses only when the whole sentence is in parentheses.

John Quiggin, I think single rather than double quotes are used in headlines, even in the US, for the same reason that various short words (“bid” for “attempt”, for example) that don’t normally occur in articles are: they take up less space.


Bruce 06.19.09 at 7:59 pm

You have run into a copy editor who prays to the Chicago Style Manual – a loathsome piece of work designed to dumb down the American English Language and ensure that all writers sound/look exactly the same. Be glad you’re not trying to write fiction in the vernacular.


rosmar 06.24.09 at 5:19 am

“The British style is that punctuation goes inside the quotes only when the punctuation was part of the text quoted. American style appears to be that punctuation always goes within the quote.”

That isn’t completely accurate–American style is that, while commas and periods go within the quotation mark, question marks and exclamation marks go outside of it, unless part of the original quote.

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