An Argument in Defense of Quotation Marks November 16, 2009

An Argument in Defense of Quotation Marks

After that amusing article which lacked an Oxford comma, there’s another story that highlights interesting usage of grammar. And atheists will appreciate it.

Read this excerpt from an Associated Press article about the Catholics and their stance on clergy celibacy:

Apparently seeking to squash any speculation that Rome had been courting the disaffected Anglicans, the Vatican said the “Holy Spirit” inspired Anglicans to “petition repeatedly and insistently to be received into full Catholic communion” individually and as a group.

Do you see it?

Quotation marks around “Holy Spirit.”

There are a couple ways to interpret this. One is that it’s part of a longer quotation (which did not include the words “inspired Anglicans to”).

In that case, the sentence could have been written like this:

The Vatican said the “Holy Spirit [inspired Anglicans to] petition repeatedly and insistently to be received into full Catholic communion.”

That makes sense but it’s not nearly as interesting 🙂

Another interpretation is that the marks were used in the context of: It doesn’t really exist, but that’s what they call it, so we’ll just put quotation marks around it.

Was this an intentional jab at anyone who believes in the Trinity? (Or should I say, “Trinity”?)

Terry Mattingly at Get Religion doesn’t like the implication if that’s true:

What do you think is going on here, precisely? Why is the existence or the activity of this one member of the Holy Trinity now subject to grammatical doubt? Has one corner of the Trinity been demoted?

Maybe this is part of a larger change in AP style. If so, are Christians now followers of “Jesus Christ”? When people survive some horrible disaster, are we supposed to report that they felt comforted by the presence of “God”? Do people now praise or express anger at “God” when wrestling with the big issues of life? I guess that when President Barack Obama ends a speech now, journalists are supposed to quote him saying: ” ‘God’ bless you and ‘God’ bless America.”

That. Would. Be. Awesome.

I would love to see “God” in quotation marks from the mainstream media:

After Little Billy was rescued from the well, his family said it was their faith in “God” that got them through the night.

Looks right to me.

Even if this article contains accurate use of the quotation marks in the sense of a larger quotation, broken up by words not in the quotation, there’s an argument to make for the use of them when discussing specific references to mythology — like “Noah’s Ark” or the “Garden of Eden.”

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  • muggle

    Too funny.

    I say use the quotes particularly in reference to disasters. “God” sparing the five people in an airline disaster that killed a couple of hundred more deserves that snub. It doesn’t get more egotistical than that or more inconsiderate of the loved ones for all those who didn’t survive. Yes, I’m saying the claims that “God” loved my person better than your person are just plain rude.

    You know, this may be catching. I might just start doing this. It’s too amusing.

    Terrific use of periods, btw, Hemant.

  • DemetriusOfPharos

    Back in college, a friend of mine and I started using air quotes and a sarcastic tone when describing something. One particular case I remember was describing computer ‘users’ as having ‘intelligence’. We would also often (and still do) use quotes around things that are perfectly legitimate, as in “Microsoft” “Software”.

    Yeah, we got bored alot.

  • Jesus “Christ”.

  • bigjohn756

    The quotes may be trying to differentiate between Holy Spirit and Holy Ghost. As I recall the Catholics stopped using Holy Ghost decades ago whereas many other Christian sects retained the title. I don’t know where the Anglicans stand on this terminology, furthermore, I really don’t care. Perhaps someone who is interested could look all of this up and offer an opinion on my guess.

  • JulietEcho

    I don’t care so much about the quotation marks in cases like these. What I’d like to see is something like this:

    Mr. and Mrs. Smith are thanking the Judeo-Christian God they believe in for the safe rescue of their son, little Jimmy Smith, from the well.

    There we go. Now we’re being specific instead of leaving people to assume that the word God always refers to their Bible-god.

  • I like it. I think I’ll start doing that in my blog posts.

  • Of course, the whole idea of “trinity” was a later addition to the Bible anyway.

  • Ashley Moltzan

    lol that’s awesome, especially since I’m the proofreader of the local newspaper. I’ll have to remember that one…

  • Sandra

    Hmmm… anybody else thinking, ‘IN “GOD” WE TRUST’?

    Oh and air quotes during the pledge. 😀

  • Richard Wade

    So, these are called scare quotes, right?

    The use of quotation marks could help to indicate where someone is on the philosophical spectrum:

    The pre-modernist version:

    After Little Billy was rescued from the well, his family said it was their faith in God that got them through the night.

    The modernist version:

    After Little Billy was rescued from the well, his family said it was their faith in “God” that got them through the night.

    The post-modernist version:

    “After” “Little” “Billy” “was” “rescued” “from” “the” “well,” “his” “family” “said” “it” “was” “their” “faith” “in” “God” “that” “got” “them” “through” “the” “night.”

    The fundamentalist version:

    After Little Billy was rescued from the well, his family said it was their faith in God that got them through the night.

  • Carlie

    I had to laugh with disdain at Facebook today, because I saw a group called “Correct spelling, punctuation and apostrophe use”. OH NOT WITHOUT THAT COMMA YOU’RE NOT.

  • Barring that it could — as stated — be some artifact of having been derived from an abbreviated quotation, my preferred interpretation is that the Roman Catholic Church is run by closet Macedonians.

    Just think of the possibilities that accrue from that …

    Maybe in Dan Brown style, I could write a novel claiming that I Constantinople (381) never actually occurred; that the Church cleverly composed documents suggesting the Macedonian heresy had been condemned, but in fact it hadn’t; that every Catholic bishop, on his appointment, must take a secret oath which accepts the Macedonian heresy but also promises to keep secret that the Church actually supports it; that a clandestine order was established in the Middle Ages to continually monitor and tamper with documentation which maintains the fiction that I Constantinople occurred, ensures no one uncovers this secret, and is even willing to kill to keep it …

  • I believe @FakeAPStyleBook put it best the other day on Twitter:

    To denote air quotes, “use quotes.”

  • ethanol

    Doesn’t really fit for an AP article, but in rural areas I have seen a strange tendency to use quotation marks for emphasis. Once in a hotel in Idaho I saw in the shower a sign informing guests to

    please put the shower curtain inside the shower before using

    which i took to mean “thanks, asshole”

  • AxeGrrl

    I always write ‘God’ ~ mainly because there’s no one definition for the word that fits every situation (or fits every person who uses it).

    I use the quotation marks almost to suggest the meaning: whatever you mean by ‘God’.

  • Ben

    Using quotes around “God”, and other biblical related concepts such as “evil”, is probably what we all should be doing, especially while debating believers. I’ve found on one blog on the News Ltd. network that omitting the quotes is often attacked as “denying what we know to be true”.

    Using them tells everybody: I’m using the work closest to your understanding of the concept, but don’t actually believe all the connotations of it.

    Of course, using quotes all the time gets tedious, but it does help reduce perceived ambiguity.

  • Heehee! Love this. Thanks for sharing!

  • katie t

    Dear “Feminists,” our time is nigh! Finally we can tell someone else they’re “overreacting,” these are “just words,” and everybody needs to quit being so “sensitive.” Huzzah!

  • “I” love this.

  • CiCi

    that would be fantastic. it’d really make people pause while reading and…make them think.

  • To my knowledge, Jesus Christ is a historical figure, who after being crucified, is claimed to have become reanimated, in an event his followers refer to as “The Resurrection.”

    I think this is a great idea, but should be practiced judiciously. Thanks for pointing this out. Bravo!

    Maybe some time when I recite the Pledge of Allegiance, instead of omitting “under God” I might make a big show of doing “air quotes” with my fingers.


  • If this is being used to indicate the so-called nature then I’m particularly happy with it. Even if the claim were manifestly even more ridiculous we wouldn’t stick quotes around it. So for example we don’t stick quotes around “alien visitors” or “homeopathic remedy” even though those are just as nonsensical and possibly more so.

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