“Suspicious” Quotation Marks: Funny? Mostly!

I’ve never really told anyone this, but I’m kind of a jerk when it comes to grammar and punctuation.  I usually don’t correct grammatical mistakes, I try not to be too critical of people who say “yous” instead of  “you,” and I don’t walk around with a Sharpie correcting improperly placed apostrophes (even though I want to).  Sometimes these mistakes bother me, and sometimes they just make me laugh.

Take suspicious quotation marks, I don’t know where the The Employees Must “Wash Hands” picture originated, but it’s all over the internet, and when I saw it I laughed out loud.  Then I cringed a little bit, hoping the sign wasn’t posted in a “restaurant.” (<–Deliberate misuse.)

Excessive use of quotation marks AND sarcasm.

The first pair of suspicious quote marks  I remember was on an insurance company sign on the street where I grew up.  The sign read:

“Insurance That’s “Affordable”

Even as a kid I used to roll my eyes at that.

Bethany Keeley has built a mini media empire around the offending punctuation.  The “Blog” of Unnecessary Quotation Marks is a collection of pictures submitted by readers, accompanied by Keeley’s hilarious comments.

With a disclaimer like that, no wonder the jar's empty!

She compiled the best of the unnecessary into “The Book of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks,” which publisher Chronicle Books calls, “a smarty-pants guide, “perfect” for desperate grammarians, habitual air quoters, and anyone who appreciates a good laugh.”

If you can’t wait to pick up the book, visit the Facebook group, Quotation Mark Hunters, which is where I found these pictures, and spent far too much time surfing and laughing.

I hope you’ll have a good laugh too, and maybe it will make you think twice before using quotation marks “willy-nilly.”

For clarification on the proper use and single vs. double quotation marks, and just about any other grammar question, visit Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips.

Grammar Watch is an occasional series about grammar peeves, abuses, giggles, and rants.  Email me with any topics you’d like to see included here.

Resources:  The Daily Post.
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164 thoughts on ““Suspicious” Quotation Marks: Funny? Mostly!

  1. I’m always noticing any kind of punctuation and grammar fails, maybe I will start to carry around a marker pen to correct the offending, or perhaps a better camera so I have proof of the hilarity!

  2. Love love LOVE unnecessary quotation marks!

    And now my daughter, obviously oblivious to my grammar geekiness, has started using “air quotes” around “everything” that she “says” in order to “emphasize” her important “thoughts.”

    Makes me laugh every time.

    🙂

    1. Former co-workers and I used to use air quotes excessively to make each other laugh. As in, I’m going to sit in my “chair” and do some “work” so I can get “paid.” The silly thing is it always made us laugh. That’s a good thing, right?

  3. So funny! I have seen excessive use of quotes in writing, and I have seen (and am guilty of) questionable air quotes. However, I have never seen businesses actually post signs such as those pictured on your blog. I think I would die laughing.

  4. I can sympathize with being a grammar freak. I never correct anyone, for fear of sounding like a jerk, but I secretly cringe any time someone sends me an e-mail and I notice punctuation where it shouldn’t be or misspelled words.

    This was funny, though. The pictures made me laugh!

  5. hahahah. this is so true. It’s pretty funny how quotes can completely change the meaning of a sentence. For example:

    “I” went to the store.
    I “went” to the store.
    I went “to” the store.
    I went to “the” store.
    I went to the “store”.

    All totally different.

  6. I’m a grammar Nazi, and am likely to have gray hairs by the age of thirty with the amount of times I’ve winced at the suspicious quotation mark phenomenon. But even more terrible is the “there’s” subject-verb disagreement that has crept into our lexicon…

    A demonstration, and hopefully with the proper use of quotes, otherwise the double quotes will be fleas on the computer screen, itching mercilessly at your pet peeve. Apologies beforehand if so.

    There’s = contraction of “there is,” singular verb, therefore should refer to a singular noun.

    “There’s stuff over there to look at.” – Correct. “Stuff,” though tends to refer to a collection of items, is assigned with a singular verb.

    “There’s cute kittens in the barn!” – Incorrect. “Kittens” is plural, therefore should carry the plural form of “to be,” otherwise known as the verb “are.”

    This affliction is everywhere, and threatens to become part of everyday language use. What to do?

    1. I know what you mean about “there is” when it should “there are,” and I’m often guilty of it myself. It’s one of those things I try to double check before sending anything out (or clicking “Publish.”) I’m a little bit of a Grammar Nazi too, but I’m far from a true grammarian and try to be patient with other people’s mistakes because I know I make many of my own. I keep learning though!

  7. I’m a stickler for spelling and grammar, although I know I’m not perfect, I sure try to be.

    These unnecessary quotation marks make me laugh! But people sure are stupid…

  8. I recently discovered the “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks and it always gives me a chuckle! I do freelance work in writing/design and occasionally I’ll get a senior who wants me to simply type up a little poem, or a Christmas letter, etc. One fellow in particular is the sweetest man in the world, however would come across as the ultimate creep on paper with the amount of suspicious quotation marks he uses!

  9. I loved reading this and found myself laughing as well. However, I also found myself getting very annoyed. I am not sure I understand why these quotations marks are getting placed where they do not belong! lol

  10. I “love” the “unnecessary” quotes I “see” everyday.

    I read some article a while ago, of course no link, that talked about the salesman quotes and how it has a long history, going back at least to the 1700s…

  11. Hello, Olivia – I found your blog on under the postaday2011 tag. I’m also working on a fiction project (not yet ready to make it a novel) … experimenting with doing it on line. I have another “completed” [note suspicious quotation marks] novel that never made it out of my desk drawer. My blog, Older Eyes, is an older perspective on life. I’ll be gradually checking out your blog. In the meantime, my pet peeve is people who say “these ones” and “those ones” as in, I think I like these ones.”

  12. I am a self professed typo-snob. I cannot get around it. No matter where I am, either at a restaurant or sometimes even a website, I typically always find a typo. Chinese restaurants are the absolute worst!

    The pics above are hilarious and also a bit disturbing (the “wash hands” part). Thank you for the laugh and for a new blog that I will be adding to my RSS feed!

  13. This is so funny. I can relate to everything you say here. I’m so bad I always validate in microsoft word before I send anything out. I love “Employee Must Wash Hands”.
    At this one company I worked for there was a guy with one arm who was my “mean” boss. Someone changed the sign on the bathroom door reading – Please Wash Hands (hand)

  14. I have a good one, it’s not a misuse but it’s funny none the less.
    I was at my sisters concert and this song appeared on the program:
    Hallelujah from “The Messiah”
    I can’t help but read that sarcastically.

  15. Haha! I actually have a picture on my phone of the EMPLOYEES MUST “WASH HANDS” sign that I saw at a local restaurant. I submitted it a couple of years ago to The “Blog” of Unnecessary Quotation Marks (although I’m not sure if they ever used it!). It seems to me that somewhere, there is a company printing a bunch of these signs and selling them to businesses. Someone needs to give them a heads up!

  16. I’m reminded of a hilarious Friends episode, in which Joey is trying to use finger quotation marks. Also, while we’re on the subject of quotaton marks…I believe sometimes quotation at the end of a sentence belong inside the period, not outside. For instance, if they’re not used to mark an actual speech. It’s a small point, yet a friend lost points on a class paper after I advised her. Or should I say, “advised her”?

    1. Unfortunately, the Elements of Style says that periods and commas go inside the quotes, even when logic dictates that they should go outside, and the CMOS agrees. One of the great irrational rules of US punctuation (in the UK they apply the logic you cite and I believe Spanish does as well).

  17. The sign at the local bank drive-through says:
    “Please” don’t send heavy coins.
    Bugs me every time I see it. Is their courtesy just a smoke-screen? Do they want to give the veneer of polite request to what is really an order? Wonder if I am the only customer thinking the real message is:
    Send heavy coin through these tubes and we’ll hurt you.

  18. Nice post! Grammatical errors really push my buttons, too, although I find the ones on signs for businesses REALLY funny! I think my favorite is the misused apostrophe. I see a lot of people use an apostrophe before an “s” to make something plural, even though it’s completely unnecessary…Thanks for all your great “post’s!” (<–intentional double mistake)

  19. I feel the same way about air quotes- you know when people make suspicious quote marks with their hands when telling a story.

    I’d like to grab those hand and hold them down and see if the storyteller could retell the story without them.

    Hope your novel is coming along. Congrats on being “Freshly Pressed”. 😛

  20. hah so true! my roommate once got a birthday card that read:

    happy birthday
    “love,” grandma and grandpa.

    we wondered about that for a while…

  21. Oh gawd….once in a “blue moon” I do it too. Guilty. I think I only do it once in awhile to emphasize that word because bold or caps looks like yelling. I actually went back to my blog to see if I do that and mostly it’s just where they’re supposed to be. Mostly I write how I talk so periods ….. may be pauses and who knows what else. Made me laugh.

  22. As a book editor, I witness, on a near daily basis, the auspicious quotations that seem to reflect the subconscious mood of an author. I wish I had a premonition about this post, as I have plenty of examples. The kindred spirit to the unnecessary quotation pair is the senselessly italicized text.

  23. Boy, I love this! I don’t think “air quotes” are funny — I think they’re pathetically stupid, and show us up as an “ignoramus” society! The world is laughing at us!

    A Snob. And a Stickler.

  24. I “really” feel the same way. I “literally”, run about with a sharpie, drawing scandalous “handle-bar” mustaches on every poster i see, and dashing out “unessential” quotations worldwide… they call me………. (<–insert you're "suggestions" in a reply ":-)" )!

  25. I have a degree in English and write. I admit to being OCD about spelling, grammar and punctuation – at least in the workplace. It drives me insane when I receive emails with no structure, no punctuation, abbreviated words, bad spelling. crappy grammar. Admittedly, it also drives me crazy when friends use all of the above too!

  26. I guess that was a “good” post. Also, “congratulations” on being freshly “pressed”.

    OK, I think that was “unnecessary”.

    I’m done, “promise”.
    I think you’ve opened up a whole knew venue of procrastination for me. 🙂

  27. I don’t even get that… I you “REALLY” want to emphasis a word then you can try putting it in “bold” or in “Caps Lock”. You don’t half to be retarted and add “quotes”! really funny post! LOVED IT!!!!!

  28. Oh, dear. Too funny. Although, I feel a little guilty. I grew up in a small town, and my friends and I used to change signs on business marquees to spell funny things (prime example: McDonald’s Big N’Tasty sandwich, to Big Nasty). I guess we were heathens, but at the time it was hilarious!

    Great blog, I am now subscribed!

  29. I happen to hate grammar mistakes, but I must admit that I am guilty, guilty, guilty of the misuse of Quotation Marks! I use them for emphasis…it is kind of like poetic license in writing, I think when I am trying to be funny I capitalize and put ” ” marks around the word so you know how I’m trying to say the word in the sentence! I hope I do not come across “Stupid”!! Oh well!

  30. Wonderful. I especially love ads for cars in which they claim the vehicle has “real” leather and is in “great shape.” But the most disconcerting for me is the metal box on the wall in a building at the University of Toronto which says: “Fire Alarm.”

    So, what is it really?

  31. You probably just derailed a part of my evening because this kind of stuff kills me. The “Haiti” jar is brilliant! I’m going to try that somewhere. This reminds me of a friend who has a four year old who like to use air quotes even though she doesn’t understand them. Nice FP!

  32. Excellent “writing.”
    I’m totally kidding, this was well written and fun. Congrats on being freshly pressed!
    I would just like people to understand the difference between its and it’s. Sigh.
    Signed,
    another grammar nerd

  33. Um… for all of the rhetoric about the linguistic and editorial skills of the above posters, a glaring grammatical error in your own post has gone completely unnoticed.
    “Take suspicious quotation marks, I don’t know where the The Employees Must “Wash Hands” picture originated, but it’s all over the internet, and when I saw it I laughed out loud.”
    It could be correctly rendered either as “Take suspicious quotation marks. I don’t know where the The Employees Must “Wash Hands” picture originated, but it’s all over the internet, and when I saw it I laughed out loud.” or as “Take suspicious quotation marks; I don’t know where the The Employees Must “Wash Hands” picture originated, but it’s all over the internet, and when I saw it I laughed out loud.” I think you could have even used a colon instead of a semi-colon, depending on how you wanted to emphasize the strength of the second phrase. If I am wrong, someone please correct me. I only like to be right.
    That correction aside, however, I agree with your thinking on the use of grammar and punctuation by modern “writers” completely.

    1. Ah … thank you for the input on that sentence. I thought it through, turned the sentence around a few times, and consulted with a friend who is a true grammarian. I finally decided that there is no glaring grammatical error there. Stylistically, I admit, it’s not very well done. It runs on and meanders too much, but it’s not grammatically incorrect. The two sentences you offer as alternatives would have been much better choices.

      1. Ah, okay. I stand corrected. Well, I sit corrected. And I can’t wait till your next post 🙂 And thank you, because I totally learned something new from you today 😀

  34. Um… for all of the rhetoric about the linguistic and editorial skills of the above posters, a glaring grammatical error in your own post has gone completely unnoticed.

    “Take suspicious quotation marks, I don’t know where the The Employees Must “Wash Hands” picture originated, but it’s all over the internet, and when I saw it I laughed out loud.”
    It could be correctly rendered either as
    “Take suspicious quotation marks. I don’t know where the The Employees Must “Wash Hands” picture originated, but it’s all over the internet, and when I saw it I laughed out loud.”
    or as
    “Take suspicious quotation marks; I don’t know where the The Employees Must “Wash Hands” picture originated, but it’s all over the internet, and when I saw it I laughed out loud.”
    I think you could have even used a colon instead of a semi-colon, depending on how you wanted to emphasize the strength of the second phrase. If I am wrong, someone please correct me. I only like to be right.

    That correction aside, however, I agree with your thinking on the use of grammar and punctuation by modern “writers” completely.

  35. I’ve never really noticed “misplaced” quotation marks (see what I did there?) Maybe it’s a stateside thing more than a UK thing. Here I notice misplaced single apostrophes, or “apostrophe’s”. Greengrocers seem particularly prone – constantly referring to potatoe’s or tomatoe’s. Equally wrong, however they’re pronounced!

  36. Hi Olivia. My name is Miguel Sogbi from Venezuela. May be i don´t writte english in the right way, because english isn´t my native language, but my comment is that you are right, but the people that do that in some signs o announces is just a way to call more attention about the message. Aren´t quotes, but may be they reach the objective of remark part of the message.
    Best,
    Miguel

    1. Hola Miguel, Tiene razón. Las comillas se utilizan a veces para dar énfasis, y es correcto hacerlo. Pero cuando se utilizan sin cuidado, el resultado puede ser irónico, sarcástico o lo contrario de lo que se pretendía.

  37. This is quite funny in one sense, but a little disconcerting in another. The mass media, and the world of advertising in particular, have eroded the common use of language. These mis-uses seem to be concentrated in certain areas. The southern US seems prone to the over-use of apostrophie’s. The UK seems to be rather fond of run-on un-punctuated sentences full of awkward clauses in order to say something which could be said much easier using fewer words but who am I to judge as I was saying to a friend the other day I was watching a progamme on TV and there was this bloke talking about something but I didn’t have a clue what the hell he was talking about because he went on and on without ever stopping. North America in general really loves to use “inappropriate” quotation marks, probably as a means to highlight a word, but the effect is rather funny. Another peeve of mine is the reduction of language (and thought) to a simple point form format, and I wonder if this is the reason why we now live in an atention deficit culture, or is it the other way round? What was the question?

  38. My biggest beef with improper punctuation is with, of all thing, a non-word. I live in the South, and I proudly say, “Do y’all want to come visit?” and similar on a regular basis. It’s y’all, not ya’ll.

    For those who say ‘all y’all,’ well, I can’t help you there.

    1. I love both “y’all” and “all y’all.” It’s very friendly to my ear and much nicer to hear than the popular East Coast horror, “yous” or “yous guys.” Even worse, last week I had two restaurant hostesses say, “yous guyses,” as in “Are yous guyses ready to be seated.” Ugh!

  39. Haha! I love that I stumbled across this post! I had a boss that used to use quotes like they were bold and we always used to poke fun at him because it was a matter of getting paid on a photoshoot: You can pay in “cash” or “credit”. HAHAHA! Thanks for sharing those ridiculous signs with us. 🙂

  40. My grandmother used to sign cards – “Grandma” Wolfe -, and my husband’s father used to sign off with – “Love”, Mom and Dad. I always hoped they were just bad with punctuation, rather than trying to send a not-so-subliminal message.

  41. Your Sharpee reference brings a smile, as my late father–a writer himself–would always pull one out ready to slash and edit. With love, of course!
    Great post. I am sending the link to my friend and neighbor who is…an editor!

  42. I admit. I don’t know the first thing about grammar, punctuation or sentence structure. I also have a limited vocabulary, but still, I have a blog.
    The forementioned examples of bad quotation mark usage, are being used like underlining, to call attention to the key part of the message.
    If you find these examples amusing, you should check out my blog, and if you do, some words of advice, “Bring and extra pen.”

  43. Frankly, I’d rather speak Chinese and English than care if I annoyed some grammar nazis. I’d be more than willing to get by speaking a broken second foreign language than be a grammar nazi that speaks only one language. Roger Federer speak 4 languages and he has grammar problems at times, but who cares? I’d rather communicate in 4 languages like he does than be a grammar nazi. I went to an International school and met all kinds of people whose second or third language was English. The grammar nazis were in the English Language lab somewhere in the library.

  44. As Nabokov said, the only place where you need quotation marks is around the word “truth”. I would logically apply those marks around every word, but that wouldn’t be convenient so I pass, most of the time.

  45. Speaking of an obsession to punctuate properly, your line “Bethany Keeley, has built a mini media empire around the offending punctuation. ” doesn’t need a comma after Keeley. 🙂 Sorry!

    But I loved your entry and completely identify with it. Whenever I try to correct someone’s grammar, they just call me a douche bag and show me the finger for pretending to be high and mighty 😛

    1. Oh no! You’re completely right! I can’t believe you’re the first one to mention it. The original sentence needed a comma, but I revised it and never took the comma out. Bad bad! I’ve made the correction and thank you very much for telling me.

  46. Perhaps the notice was quoting the rule book.

    In word processing, the machine is to blame for mis-use of the apostrophe and the single inverted comma. There’s only one key for two uses.

    I expect that there is a way of selecting which way the wretched thing slopes, but I have not discovered it.

  47. Great “post”

    Since moving to Thailand, I’ve found the whole of Asia to be one giant grammatical minefield. Much work to be done 🙂

  48. This is hilarious! I have so many pet peeves surrounding grammar and punctuation, so I can completely identify with your frustrations. Thanks for the laughs!

  49. Errors do make you laugh or smile at times but then grammar does have its own difficulties. And when we laugh at errors we certainly do not intend to be derisive of the person in error. It happens to all of us sometime or other and more often the more we write. The comma in the blog about punctuation – third line- “you,” does seem a little out of place, don’t you think ? But hey, nice blog and great to have you about. ‘Funny to the extent of being hilarious at times’, is just right for some of that stuff we see around.

  50. I never quite know how to react when I read things like this. I’m in on the joke- those uses of quotation marks are brutal to the point of amusing.

    But after the laughter is over, my thoughts invariably turn to my own editorial failings. One of these days, the difference between an en-dash and an em-dash will make sense to me. In the very least, it’d be nice if it was intuitive.

  51. That was a really awesome topic! I am sure there are many laughs above in all of these comments! Dont take any “Seriously”. Haha!
    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!
    Going to go and have a poke around.
    xx

  52. I think apostrophes are abused much more than the odd quotation marks. Sometimes I enjoy the irregular quotation marks – lots of businesses also do it on purpose to entice customers. Several have walked in to point out the mistake and then made a purchase.

    1. Quotation marks are suspicious, the adjective, because they arouse suspicion. They can also be suspect, the adjective, for the same reason, but I prefer using suspicious.

      They would be suspect, the verb, if I wrote, “We suspect the quotation marks made us laugh.”

      They would be suspect, the noun, if I wrote, “The quotation marks are a suspect in making us laugh.”

  53. Shouldn’t you be using single quotes inside double-quotes?

    For example, “a smarty-pants guide, “perfect” for desperate grammarians, habitual air quoters, and anyone who appreciates a good laugh.” Perfect should be in single quotes: ‘perfect’; or is that an AP Style thing only.

  54. Thank you making me laugh. This was “too” funny. Lol. My favorite is the insurance sign. Apparently the suspicious quotation marks are more annoying than I thought. I thought it was just me rolling my eyes whenever I saw quotation marks misused. Thanks again.

  55. ” I try not to be too critical of people who say “yous” instead of “you” …

    If you don’t know why “youse” (the proper spelling) is perfectly acceptable in Englishes around the world, you don’t know as much about language as you think you do. You have no grounds to be critical at all, any more that a British English speaker could criticise you for saying “gotten”, or “fall” for “autumn”.

  56. “ha”ha”i”never”thought”about”this”before”and”i’ve”noticed”quite”a”few”already.”Lots”of”personal”amusement”to”come”as”my”commute”is”full”of”these”type”of signs

  57. I loved, loved, loved this post! My mother is in education, and she has always stressed the importance of grammar and punctuation. I often laugh when I see a sign or anything where the punctuation is incorrect. Those random apostrophes are a killer! The one mistake that always sticks out to me though is the spelling mistake on a Chinese restaurant menu: “We delivery” 🙂

  58. too funny!!

    down the street from me, there is a store with a sign out front that says OPEN “TODAY!” um…what does that mean? when is it actually open? today? or maybe a day similar to today?

  59. Hahaha! This is one of my favorite punctuation mistakes! I have a friend who texts me using “suspicious” quotations around “random” words. I can never tell if he’s being sarcastic or just doesn’t know what their true purpose is.

  60. Hey, thanks for the link! (and the plug for my book!)
    I wanted to add that the “wash hands” sign seems to be in the bathrooms of restaurants, especially fast food places, across the nation. I get photos of that very sign in different places all the time. Scary and hilarious.

    1. Dear Bethany, Thanks for stopping by! Your website is so much fun to look around … Lots of laughs. Considering all the comments on this post, I’d say unnecessary quotation marks are a pretty hot topic. The “wash hands” sign is what prompted this post. I hadn’t noticed it until a few days ago, then it was everywhere!

      Congratulations on your book; I hope sales are going great! ~ Olivia

  61. Aaaah, I totally just snorted audibly reading that. For a while, my sister and I would keep little paper quotation and question marks in our purses and tape them to random signs, just to see how far out of context we could take something, without changing anything but the punctuation.

  62. Thanks and congrats on the post, well done! Special request if possible: could you do a post on not ending sentences with prepositions? I know we do live in a modern age and sometimes it just sounds much better to do so, but surely, there is another way to help the prepositionally challenged?

  63. this is possibly the “funniest” post that I have “read” today. You have a great “writing” style. I will definitely “read” some more of your “posts.” Seriously though, great post. It was a very good read.

  64. Two more of my peeves – the almost universal use of the word “like” as a universal verb, and the widespread use of “your” for “you’re”. Sure, we all understand what it means, but the erosion of language (and thus thought) deeply concerns me.

  65. LOL, I once read a sign saying, “Throw your CIGARETTES BUD!!!” huh cigarettes bud? Really? Is there such a word? When I come back to see the post again, cigarette butts are everywhere and the sign is thrown in the bin.

  66. I find it sad that grammar and acceptable language are rapidly changing these days purely because the new generation of kids who aren’t taught the importance of grammar and punctuation will never experience the “delight and amusement” of seeing how changing the punctuation of a sentence can completely change the meaning.

  67. Oh Olivia was I actually even nerdier than you? I was pretty serious about punctuation and grammar and not always correct. Can a friendship based on spelling, punctuation, and grammar rules survive? I think so. And you also know that I love the comma before the “and.”

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