Proper use vs. over-use of quotation marks
Thread poster: zabrowa

Local time: 07:43
Jan 19, 2009

I have a writer who is over-using quotation marks. He coins new definitions for words (e.g. illusion), defines them, and thereafter, puts them in quotes, thusly:

In this manuscript, I define _illusion_ as XYZ. So, when the "illusion" created by X occurs, the result is Y etc etc.

There are many such newly-defined words in this work so the result looks pretty bad.
In editing this document, I'd like to include a note about why I deleted those thousands of punctuation marks.

Can someone cite the CMS guideline about this? Or given an intelligent explanation? Sorry, I'm in a loss now and my explanation would seem too rambling.

Thanks guys. You're excellent.

[Subject edited by staff or moderator 2009-01-19 13:29 GMT]


Derek Gill Franßen  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:43
German to English
+ ...
One way of dealing with it... Jan 19, 2009

I'll have to look at my CMoS but, while I do so, you may consider using a "tactic" often employed in legal texts, which contain many defined terms.

One method I have seen often is to simply capitalize the newly defined word, e.g., Illusion in your example. It may make sense in some cases to make the reference once when the term is first defined, e.g., "...I define the illusion as XYZ (hereinafter referred to as Illusion)."

That way you don't need thousands of quotation marks and the reader is notified by the (out of place) capital letter that it is a defined term.

HTH =)

[Edited at 2009-01-19 13:39 GMT]


Derek Gill Franßen  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:43
German to English
+ ...
Manuals of Style Jan 19, 2009

According to the Modern Language Association of America, quotation marks are to be placed "around a word or phrase given [...] in a special sense [...]." Furthermore, it goes on to say, "If introduced unnecessarily, this device can make writing heavy-handed."
(Cf. "Quotation marks." MLA Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing. 2nd ed. New York: MLA, 1998: Section 3.4.8, pp. 77 et seq.)

The Chicago Manual of Style Online has this to say about it in its publically available forum:
Q. What is the rule about using quotation marks to signal an unusual use of a word? I’m editing a writer who employs this device overmuch, it seems to me. But I don’t want to be a fuddy-duddy. Any advice?
A. Chicago discourages this usage. Better to say exactly what you mean. Excessive use of scare quotes imparts a jittery feel to writing and gives the impression that the writer isn’t skilled at conveying precise meanings. When you decide to use them because they seem like the best way to introduce an unusual phrase or jargon, drop the quotation marks for subsequent uses of the same word or phrase."
(Cf. .)

You might also consider taking a look at how Wikipedia deals with this (cf. ).

That's about all I could find on the subject.icon_wink.gif

[Edited at 2009-01-19 17:06 GMT]


Ken Cox  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:43
German to English
+ ...
Agree with Derek Jan 20, 2009

And his style guide quotes and references.

More generally, if the author wants to define a 'common' term to have a particular meaning and does so when the term is introduced, there is no need to put the word in quotes every time it is used afterwards unless the author also uses the same word without quotes with a different meaning, but then the author is simply asking for trouble. If the author (re)defines terms wholesale, it might be a good idea to point this out to the reader at some place where it is likely to be seen by most readers (such as in a foreword or the introductory chapter), to try to avoid confusion to readers who dip into the text somewhere in the middle.
Needless to say, if the author redefines terms extensively, he or she makes heavy demands on the goodwill of the reader.


Rod Walters  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:43
Japanese to English
Play the Humpty-Dumpty card Jan 20, 2009

You might like to refer your author to Through the Looking Glass.

"I don't know what you mean by 'glory,'" Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. "Of course you don't – till I tell you. I meant 'there's a nice knock-down argument for you!'"
"But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knock-down argument,'" Alice objected.
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in a rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master – that's all."
Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again.
"They've a temper, some of them – particularly verbs, they're the proudest – adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs – however, I can manage the whole lot! Impenetrability! That's what I say!"

Being likened to Humpty Dumpty is quite a powerful rebuke to the self-respecting academic...

Otherwise I fear you must follow Alice and use a single quotation mark.

[Edited at 2009-01-20 08:52 GMT]


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