We talk; we write. Sometimes we write the things we say. And sometimes we write things that are approximations, or that are ironic, or that have many meanings. So of course the grammar gods would decide that all these things shall be indicated using the same symbols. Of which there are two kinds, and consistency is really the only rule. Nooooooo!
[The above is a basic rundown of what this blog post will be: some bold facts, then some examples, and lastly some panic-ridden statements that only add confusion and take away from any real resolution. You on board? Good.]
Speech marks. Inverted commas. Quotation marks. Bunny ears. “”. ‘’ – I’m going to call them bunnies so I’m not being biased towards one kind of usage. And also because I like bunnies. I also like to call them The Sluts of Grammar because they’re used all over the place, for heaps of different things, and I think they’re dirty. Oh and you might think that double and single ones are regional… Wrong. They may have started out that way, but, as is the wont of the bunny (and as you will see), things are now a big free-for-all.
They pop up in direct speech: “Hey you kids, get out of my boggy marsh!” (unnecessary bunnies, I’d have known that was direct speech via context); they’re used to show that the meaning of the word/s inside isn’t quite applicable: crystals somehow ‘know’ what shape to grown into (duh, I think I’m safe from being fooled here); they’re used to highlight irony: Charlie Sheen derives his “wisdom” from his vast experience in the industry (god, so obvious it’s about to punch you in the face); and they can indicate the names of artistic works: Frank Zappa’s ‘Weasels Ripped My Flesh’. That last one could mean an album or a song but you’d have to check consistency to know. GOOD. SIMPLE, THEN.
So, they all mean different things at different times and willy nilly seems to be the suggested dosage. You can use either the double ones or the single ones however you like, and they don’t even really hold much meaning within a context.
I know of three definite rules for these things:
- Use the same style for the beginning and end of whatever’s inside them (and thereby consistently within the wider text itself, pleaseandthankyou).
- In British English (the more commonly used variety in NZ) the full stop or comma comes after the bunny ears.
- If a bunny-able phrase appears inside a bunny-able phrase, use the other style, like this: “He just yelled out his window, ‘Hey you kids, get out of my boggy marsh’,” she explained.
My suggestion for bunnies is to be sparing. And, actually, that includes using your fingers to denote a bunny-able phrase. Meaning can be lost in both situations if you’ve got too many bunnies – they look cheap and off-putting. Much like sluts. You may notice I used italics where bunnies might have instead been used in this post, and that’s really where I think the solution lies, because slanty typing is so much prettier, and uses the actual words to connote the deeper meaning, not some candy-ass superscript. There, I said it.
And also, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road was written with no quotation marks at all, even with plenty of direct speech in it. In Early Modern English quotation marks were used only to denote pithy comments, let’s go back to that! “There are no stupid people, only stupid punctuation”. Nice.