As we prepare to enter the new season, drinking heavily, and posting articles that we are convinced deserve the Pulitzer (or songs that we are convinced deserve the Wurlitzer), I wanted to take time out to comment on the correct use of punctuation, starting with the glorified (there is no punctuation mark higher) Quotation Marx.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a quotation mark is “Either of a pair of punctuation marks (“ “) or (‘ ‘) used to mark the beginning and end of a passage attributed to another and repeated word for word. It is important to note that, aside from the improper use of parentheses on either side of the quotation marx, they are to be used for one thing, and one thing only—marking the ends of a passage attributed to someone else, verbatim.
Quotation Marx first came into vogue in 1953 when Tenzeng Norgay and some rugger named Hillary climbed down a steep hill and said, “We just climbed Mount Everest—Honest Sherpa!” Of course, everyone else in town started claiming the same thing, until they just got to the point of saying “Ditto.” Technically, “Ditto” is a single pair of hanging dicks, and a precursor to the more formal Quotation Marx used for a full repetition of the given words.
For many years, typewriter manufacturers struggled with the issue of incorporating quotation marx on their keyboards. It hardly seemed worthwhile adding two new keys, one each for the forward pair of dicks and the following pair of dicks. Bubba Underwood proposed an industry standard that required the typist to roll the platen down a half space, type two commas at the beginning of the quotation, then go to the end of the quote, and type two more. Alternatively, one of Remington’s lesser-known sons (Cleotus) proposed taking the sheet of paper out of the typewriter, reversing it, and typing two mirror-image commas on the back of the sheet of paper really hard so they would go through it. It wasn’t until the 1990’s when Arreviderci Olivetti’s wife Dot solved the problem with her electronic typewriter that was programmed to recognize the beginning and ending of a quote, thereby printing the “complete dick.”
New problems started to arise in the 1990’s with the proper use of quotation marx. Instead of just being used to mimic the famous words of others, they began to be used as an indication of emphasis or de-emphasis. This resulted in a famous “comedy” skit on “Saturday Night Live” (not live on the left coast) performed by “actors” and “actresses” that ultimately left the show to do more “serious” film work.
There is one remaining problem with quotation marx—determining whether they are single or plural. They always come in at least a pair, which could be called a “quotation marking”, but then there is the question of using single-dicks when quoting someone who is quoting someone else, shown by double-dicks. The problem came to public attention upon the printing of the story of Willie the Snake who started eating himself. He subsequently became Willie “the Snake” the Snake, then Willie “the ‘snake’ the snake” Snake, and so on. It was at that point in time when an ancient German philosopher’s article, the “Comma Manifesto” pointed to the ultimate solution—all quotation markings would hereafter become “quotation marx.”
Join us for future articles on the proper use and background of punctuation marks, including “The Period—Making a Point of Embarrassing Men in the Drug Store” and “Slash—How I convicted the Saints of BountyGate/World War III.”