The (mis)Use of Quotation Marks

As I was driving the other day, I saw a bumper sticker that made me do a double take. I was stuck behind the vehicle for quite a while, and as I was staring and shaking my head, all I could think was, “You’re not saying what you think you’re saying.” 

BECAUSE “HE” LIVES

Based on the area and whatnot, I’m assuming that they were trying to remind people about Jesus dying for their sins. If that’s what they meant, they should have written

BECAUSE HE LIVES or because He lives

But they didn’t. For some, unknown reason, the bumper sticker maker put all the words in caps and put quotation marks around “HE.”

Now, there are really only 4 reasons to use quotation marks:

  1. For a direct quotation (The famous line, “To be or not to be,” is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.)
  2. For dialogue in a story (“No!” the toddler yelled.)
  3. For words used as words (The word “to” is different from “too” – although this is an older style, and many have begun using italics for this.)
  4. For showing doubt/irony (He “bought” me free ice cream.)

In this case, it’s definitely not a quote, it’s not dialogue, and it’s not a word used as a word. That only leaves showing doubt or irony. Usually, when this method is used, the word in quotations is not true. In fact, the opposite is generally true.

So instead of reminding people that Jesus died for their sins, this bumper sticker is actually calling into question whether Jesus was male… I could be wrong, but I don’t think the drivers of that vehicle would like that question. At the very least, I’m pretty sure that’s not what they were trying to say.

Long story short: Learn to use quotation marks correctly, and you’ll have a much better chance of saying what you want to say.

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