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This post discusses the use of quotation marks to distinguish dialogue, parts of compositions, phrases as phrases, scare quotes, and epithets.
1. For Dialogue
Quotation marks are placed around speech in fiction (to distinguish it from attribution and narrative) and nonfiction (for the same reasons, in addition to emphasizing that it is recorded verbatim and not a paraphrase of the actual wording). Quotation marks are also appropriate for conjectural speech (for example, “What if he says, ‘We’re using John’s plan instead’?) or for representing the idea of speech (“People often say ‘myself’ when they should say ‘me’).
Note: In examples in this and other posts, quoted material is often enclosed in single rather than double quotation marks because I use double quotation marks to frame the examples. In American English, other than in special cases such as setting off terms in botany, linguistics, and philosophy, this is the only general purpose for single quotation marks.
2. For Parts of Compositions
Note: The following rules pertain to when titles of parts of compositions are referenced in a written narrative, not to their use as headings in the source material itself.
Quotation marks identify article titles in publications and chapter titles in books to distinguish the parts of the whole from the whole itself. (Italicize the publication titles themselves; one exception is unpublished manuscripts, the titles of which are also enclosed in quotation marks.) Similarly, episodes of television programs, as well as those of other audiovisual (or audio-only) presentations such as podcasts, should be enclosed in quotation marks, while program titles are italicized. Song titles, too, are placed in quotation marks to distinguish them from album titles.
Quotation marks also identify poems, essays, and short stories to distinguish their titles from those of the anthologies of which they may be (or might originally have been) a part. In online contexts, titles of blog entries, and those of sections of websites, are enclosed in quotation marks. Titles of speeches, as well as those of talks and panels that are part of conferences and other formal meeting events, are also so emphasized.
3. For a Phrase as a Phrase
Although self-referential words are italicized (as in “Moon and month are related”), phrases as phrases are enclosed in quotation marks (as in “‘Reared its ugly head’ is a cliché.”)
4. For Scare Quotes
Words and phrases are sometimes enclosed in quotation marks to signal that they are being used in a special sense, though this usage is best reserved for ironic emphasis or to clarify that the writer is using but not endorsing the term. Employing such emphasis for slang is not advised.
5. For Epithets
When nicknames are used in isolation, do not enclose them in quotation marks (“The film was released four months after the death of the King of Pop”). But do so when they appear within or after the person’s actual name: “John ‘Duke’ Wayne,” “Erwin Rommel, ‘the Desert Fox.’” (But compare the latter with “Alexander the Great lived to be only thirty-three,” in which “Alexander the Great” is so styled because the epithet is integrated with the name, not set off by punctuation.)
Discussions below explain the mistakes in the examples given, which err in mistaking essential and nonessential clauses and vice versa. A revision accompanying each sample sentence demonstrates correct form.
An essential (or restrictive) word, phrase, or clause is one that is necessary for conveying the intended meaning of a sentence. When the essential element follows the core of the main clause, the conjunction that serves as the link between them. By contrast, a nonessential (or nonrestrictive) word, phrase, or clause is attached to the main clause, trailing a comma and the conjunction which. (Alternatively, nonessential elements are inserted parenthetically into the sentence with commas, dashes, or parentheses, but this post does not pertain to that type of sentence construction.)
Actually, that and which are interchangeable as conjunctions preceding essential elements, but some writing handbooks advocate using only that in such cases to avoid confusion with sentences with nonessential elements, for which which is the only correct conjunction. In American English, at least, many careful writers observe this distinction, a strategy I strongly recommend.
The writers of the two examples below have, in constructing the sentences, confused essential and nonessential clauses, as explained in the discussion following each statement.
She faulted him for criticizing the Dodd-Frank Act that sought to overhaul the US financial sector following the recession.
The wording of this sentence suggests that of various Dodd-Frank acts, the one in question is the one that sought to overhaul the US financial sector following the recession, and therefore the description of the intent of the act is essential, because it pertains to this Dodd-Frank Act. But the part of the sentence that follows that describes the intent of the only existing Dodd-Frank Act. Therefore, the clause that begins with sought provides additional information that should be appended to the main clause, “She faulted him for criticizing the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act,” with a comma and the conjunction which: “She faulted him for criticizing the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, which sought to overhaul the US financial sector following the recession.”
More than 60 percent of companies have suffered a cybersecurity compromise in the past year, which exposed confidential information and disrupted systems and operations.
Setting the modifying phrase “exposed confidential information and disrupted systems and operations” off as a subordinate clause beginning with which creates the mistaken impression that the fact that a majority of companies experienced a hack during the previous year had the unfortunate results specified. But the phrase pertains to individual cybersecurity compromises, not to the preponderance of such experiences. The phrase is essential to the sentence—it describes hacking incidents that had specific results—and so should be integrated into the main clause, as shown here: “More than 60 percent of companies have suffered a cybersecurity compromise in the past year that exposed confidential information and disrupted systems and operations.”
Myth, originally a word of elevated and scholarly pretension, has passed into the vernacular to describe anything of dubious truth or validity, though it retains earlier senses. This post lists definitions of the word and others of which it is the root.
The word derives from the Greek term mythos, which variously means “speech” or “story,” or even “thought.” In modern English usage, a myth is a story, often featuring heroes and deities or supernatural entities, that explains a belief, custom, phenomenon, or worldview; it is also a synonym for allegory or parable. By extension, a myth is a belief or tradition, often one integral to a society, or an invalid notion born of ignorance or bigotry, or simply a rumor or untrue story. (Myth, without the article, denotes a body of myths.) An urban myth, meanwhile, is an account of an unusual or inexplicable event that did not occur, or state that does not exist, that is widely assumed to be true. The primary adjectival form is mythical; it is also used in the sense of “imaginary,” but mythic is appropriate for referring to astonishing achievements.
Mythology pertains to a set of myths, the study of myths, or an allegory, or to an assumption or belief. A mythologist (or, sometimes, mythologer) is someone who studies myths. Mythos is a synonym for both myth and mythology and denotes a symbolic set of cultural attitudes as well.
Mythogenesis is the development of myths or the tendency to ascribe mythical status to something. Mythopoeia, too, refers to the creation of myth. To mythicize is to turn something into, or treat something as, a myth; mythologize also has the latter meaning. Conversely, to demythologize is to analyze the meaning of myths or to unromanticize them. (A countermyth, meanwhile, is a myth that challenges or contradicts another myth.)
A mythmaker is someone who creates myths, generally in the casual sense of beliefs or traditions or of reputations about a person, place, or thing. A mythomaniac (or, sometimes, mythomane), meanwhile, is a pathological liar or exaggerator; the condition is called mythomania.
An etymologically related word is stichomythia (“verse speech”), denoting argumentative repartee, especially as a dramatic device in the performing arts.
This post lists and defines terms for apparel materials that have in common that the terms are derived from place names.
1. angora: a type of wool from Angora rabbits, which originated near Ankara (previously Angora), Turkey 2. Bedford cord: a corduroy-like fabric, named after Bedford, England, or New Bedford, Massachusetts 3. calico: a type of cloth originally from Calicut, India 4. cambric: a type of cloth originally from Cambrai, France 5. cashmere: a type of wool and a woolen fabric from Kashmir goats, which come from the Kashmir region of India 6. chino cloth: a cloth originating in China (the name is Spanish for “Chinese”) 7. Cordovan leather: a type of shoe leather first produced in Cordoba, Spain 8. damask: a type of fabric named after Damascus, Syria 9. denim: a type of fabric originally called serge de Nîmes, or “serge of Nîmes,” after Nîmes, a town in France 10. dungaree: a type of denim cloth originating in Dongrī, India; pants or overalls made from this fabric are called dungarees 11. duffel: a cloth first made in Duffel, Belgium 12. Harris tweed: a type of handwoven tweed cloth originating on the island of Lewis and Harris and adjacent islands in Scotland (the name of the cloth type tweed is coincidental with the name of the river Tweed) 13. Holland (or Holland cloth): a type of linen originally made in various parts of Europe, including the province of Holland in the Netherlands 14. jaconet: a fabric originally from Puri, India (the word is derived from the name of the city’s Jagannath Temple) 15. jean: a type of fabric originating in Genoa, Italy 16. jersey: a type of knit fabric originating on the island of Jersey, next to France (but a dependency of the United Kingdom) 17. Mackinaw cloth: a woolen cloth used for thick, warm jackets (called Mackinaws or Macs) originally favored by lumberjacks and then hunters and fishermen in the Mackinac (or Mackinaw) region of Michigan 18. madras: a lightweight cloth originally from Madras, India (now called Chennai) 19. muslin: a lightweight fabric originally from Mosul, Iraq 20. Morocco leather: a type of leather originally from Moroccan goats 21. nankeen: a type of fabric originating in Nanjing, China (previously called Nanking or Nankin); also refers to pants made of this material, as well as the pale buff or yellow color of the fabric, a type of porcelain originating in the city, and a type of lace (often called nankins) and part of the name of numerous animals and plants featuring this color 22. osnaburg: a coarse cloth originally made in Osnabrück, Germany 23. suede: a type of leather made from the underside of animal skins, originally referenced in the French phrase gants de Suède (“gloves from Sweden”); similar-looking fabrics are referred to as “sueded silk” and so on 24. tulle: a type of fabric originating in Tulle, France 25. worsted: a type of wool whose name is derived from that of Worstead, one of the villages from which it originated; also, the name of a type of yarn and a category of yarn weight
Homonyms are words that sound alike, but have different meanings and usually different spellings. In these sentences choose the word with the correct meaning for the sentence context.
1. Mrs. Reid has ______ the responsibility for her disabled son for twenty years.
2. The gardener’s work will ______ my design as the landscape architect.
3. Be sure to ______ if you see a child waiting to cross the street.
4. The boys tried to avoid ______ language in front of Mrs. Pierce.
5. Is there anyone who can ______ Jonathan on the decision he faces?
Answers and Explanations
1. Mrs. Reid has borne the responsibility for her disabled son for twenty years.
Borne means carried, sustained, or endured. Born means to have come into the world.
2. The gardener’s work will complement my design as the landscape architect.
Complement means to complete or to harmonize with something. To compliment someone is to say something positive about the person. It may also be a noun and refer to the positive remark itself.
3. Be sure to brake if you see a child waiting to cross the street.
Brake is a verb meaning to stop a machine, like a car. It may also be a noun, meaning the device for stopping a machine. Break means to fracture or to shatter.
4. The boys tried to avoid coarse language in front of Mrs. Pierce.
Coarse means crude, as it does in this sentence. It can also mean rough, as in I don’t care for the feel of the coarse texture of this coat. As a verb course means to move in a path from point to point or as a noun may refer to the path itself. It is used in the expression of course to mean certainly.
5. Is there anyone who can counsel Jonathan on the decision he faces?
Counsel means to advise. As a noun it means the advice given. One who gives advice is a counselor. A council is a group called together to accomplish a job. The member of such a group is a councilor.
In each of the following sentences, an expletive (a form of “there is” or “it is”) inhibits an active, concise sentence construction, and other wording is passive and/or more verbose than necessary. Discussion after each example explains the problem, and a revision demonstrates the solution.
1. There have been several immediate actions that the agency has taken.
To produce a more concise sentence, find the buried subject (“the agency”) and move it to the head of the sentence, then omit the expletive and the attendant verb or verb phrase (and the now-superfluous that): “The agency has taken several immediate actions.”
2. For each initiative, there will be a number of processes that need to change, as well as new processes that may need to be created.
Here, because of the modifying introductory phrase, the expletive is not so obtrusive, and in this case, the syntax is not doubly passive—the subject immediately follows the expletive, rather than being twice removed, as in the previous example. Nevertheless, the sentence is improved by beginning the main clause with the subject rather than the expletive; also, replace one “need to” or the other with must to avoid repetition: “For each initiative, a number of processes must change and new processes need to be created.”
3. While each bankruptcy case is unique, there are standard requirements that must be met by all creditors.
Again, beginning the main clause with a substantial subject rather than an expletive will render the sentence more concise: “While each bankruptcy case is unique, standard requirements must be met by all creditors.” Additionally, however, note that passive sentence construction disguises the true subject: “While each bankruptcy case is unique, all creditors must meet standard requirements.”
A recent post explored tract and other words derived from the Latin verb trahere (“draw”) that are based on tract. Here, other words stemming from trahere that do not build on tract are listed and defined.
The descendant of trahere that most closely resembles tract is trace. To trace is to discover or follow, to form or imprint, or to copy or record. A trace is a path or line (or a geometrical intersection), a barely detectable or measurable amount or a vestige of something, or a marking or plan. Someone or something that traces is a tracer, such as a substance that enables observers to chart a process or the progress of a condition in a medical patient; a tracer bullet is ammunition that gives off light or smoke to mark its path, helping the gunner determine accuracy of aim.
To trail is to extend or hang down, to carry, drag, or tow, to lag behind, straggle, or plod, to dwindle, or to pursue prey. A trail is a course or path or a sign of progress along a course or path
portray, such as a mark or a scent. It may also refer literally to something that is or appears to be drawn along or figuratively to an aftermath. Something that trails is a trailer, such as a vehicle that carries cargo or another vehicle or serves as a temporary shelter. In filmmaking, a trailer is an extra length of film attached at the end of a reel of footage or, counterintuitively, a short selection of footage from a film or television program that serves as a preview.
Treat, from trahere by way of tractare, which came to mean “conduct oneself” or “manage,” means “bargain,” “negotiate,” or “deal with.” Extending the sense of “deal with,” treat also came to refer to medical attention, and from the other senses it eventually applied to food or drink offered to others. That sense resulted in the use of treat to refer to a delicacy (as in the Halloween expression “Trick or treat”) and, by extension, a pleasant experience. The noun treatment pertains to how something is managed or how one behaves toward someone or something, or to medical attention. (A medical condition is called treatable or untreatable based on whether there is a cure for it.) To maltreat or mistreat is to abuse; the noun forms are maltreatment and mistreatment. Meanwhile, a treatise is a methodical argument or exposition that treats, or deals, with a topic, and a treaty is a document that details an agreement resulting from negotiation.
Entreat means “plead,” from the sense of negotiation; an act of pleading is called an entreaty and the notion of doing so is entreatment. To retreat is to draw back, literally or figuratively, and a retreat is such a movement, or an event at which one withdraws from one’s daily routine to study or reflect.
American English directly borrowed trattoria, an Italian word for a small restaurant, to refer to such establishments, usually ones featuring Italian cuisine, in the United States; the word stems from the French verb traitier (meaning “treat”), which derives from tractare.
To train (from trahere by way of traginare) is to literally or figurative draw along by directing, instructing, or teaching, or to subject oneself to such actions. One may train an aiming device at a target or objective, and train can also mean simply “drag.” A train is one or more of various things (or people) drawn by something else. It can consist of one or more connected vehicles drawn along a road or a railway by an engine, or simply a moving line of vehicles (or people or animals); it can also refer to a group of followers or attendants. (To entrain is to board a railroad train.) Train might also pertain to support vehicles and personnel for a military unit detailed for combat, to a series of mechanical parts that enable motion or a literal or figurative equivalent for achieving results, or to an order of occurrence or a succession of thoughts or actions. A train is also that part of a gown fashioned to trail along behind the person wearing it.
One who trains is a trainer, and one who is trained is a trainee. Someone or something that can be trained is trainable, and the antonym is untrainable. (Something not or not yet trained is untrained.) To retrain is to train again, and training is both a verb referring to the action and a noun referring to the act or process (as well as an adjective).
Portray (literally, “draw forth”) means “draw” or “paint”; the result is a portrait. (Both words also refer, by extension, to any characterization or description of one or more people.) Portraiture is the act of making portraits, though the word may also be synonymous with portrait.
Trait, derived from trahere by way of tractare, means “characteristic” or “quality” or, less commonly, a stroke or trail. (Traitor is unrelated; it stems from tradere, meaning “deliver,” and is therefore related to trade.)
Correct errors of pronoun use in the following sentences.
1. Do you want to go with Hamed and myself to the park?
2. Last summer, the Retys were extremely kind to my family and I when we stayed with them.
3. If it snows, me and the children will take our sleds to the hill behind the school.
4. Be sure to remind the children that too much horseplay could cause them to hurt theirselves.
5. The coach of the boys’ basketball team said, “I expect everyone to do their best in the game tonight.”
Answers and Explanations
1. Original: Do you want to go with Hamed and myself to the park? Correct : Do you want to go with Hamed and me to the park?
Pronouns used as the object of a preposition take the object form. “Hamed and me” is the compound object of the preposition with.
2. Original: Last summer, the Retys were extremely kind to my family and I when we stayed with them. Correct : Last summer, the Retys were extremely kind to my family and me when we stayed with them.
“To my family and me” is the object of the preposition to.
3. Original: If it snows, me and the children will take our sleds to the hill behind the school. Correct : If it snows, the children and I will take our sleds to the hill behind the school.
Pronouns used as the subject of a verb take the subject form. “the children and I” is a compound subject.
4. Original: Be sure to remind the children that too much horseplay could cause them to hurt theirselves. Correct : Be sure to remind the children that too much horseplay could cause them to hurt themselves.
Although sometimes heard, theirselves is a nonstandard form of themselves.
5. Original: The coach of the boys’ basketball team said, “I expect everyone to do their best in the game tonight.” Correct : The coach of the boys’ basketball team said, “I expect everyone to do his best in the game tonight.”
Although “their” is commonly used with a singular pronoun like “everyone,” when the context makes it clear that only one gender is being referred to, there’s no reason not to use a singular possessive adjective.