Wednesday 1 December 2010

The Fool's Quotation

In an idle moment, in an idle hour, during an idle life, I picked up a copy of Open Skies, Closed Minds. It's by a civil servant who believes in UFOs. He says:

Like Fox Mulder, I was the rebel, the man from the corridors of power who wouldn't play by the same 'establishment' rules as everyone else.

This blog is not concerned with aliens. I have nothing against aliens. Indeed, if our stony orb is under imminent threat of invasion, I want to be in with winning side. But this blog, and this blog-post, is concerned with the fatuous, imbecilic, snot-struck inverted commas that the author has put around the word 'establishment'.

You put quotation marks, dear reader, around quotations. Is that too bloody complicated? And if you're quoting, I want to know who you're quoting. 'Who', as Hamlet asks, 'calls me villain?' But I read that whole damned preface and there wasn't a sniff of a whiff of a citation.

Here are the 'possibilities':

A) He wants to refer to the idea of the establishment, but at the same time imply that he is too clever to believe in the idea.

B) He wants to refer to the establishment, but feels that the word itself is beneath him. His vocabulary is much better than that.

If A - if the the idea is too simplistic for him - then why the hell is he referring to it? If B - if the word is beneath him - then where's the better one?

If you are clever, be clever. If you are eloquent, be eloquent. Man cannot take a crap in inverted commas. You do, or you don't. If you have a better way of saying it, then say it better. If you have a more subtle understanding, demonstrate it. Do not send a bastard word to wander in this weary world and then deny its parentage.

Using spurious inverted commas is like telling guests that you can cook wonderfully, but you've chosen to serve them swill. It would be rude if it were true, but nobody believes you anyway.

Am I perhaps being too cruel to somebody whose aim was not linguistic felicity, but extra-terrestrial revelation? Okay. Here's the introduction to the Arden edition* of Othello:

The analysis of Shakespeare's 'characters' has become unfashionable....

Are they not characters? If they're not, and I'm prepared to believe that, what are they? If you know the secret, do bloody tell.

This introduction... cannot simply ignore 'character criticism'.

Is it not character criticism? If it's not, what is it? If you don't know the right word, stop writing until you do.

I cannot help feeling [Try harder] that such contrary impressions are meant to intimate Othello's 'otherness'...

Whose word is that? Yours? Why deny your own writing?

A comparison of two other admired Othellos prompted a 'racial' observation...

I read on (wearily), and it was racial. And here is the true fatuous, pretentious, aphasic imbecility of the whole introduction. Here is why it is unpardonable in academic writing:

Bradley and his followers located 'the real Othello' in the first half of the play....

Now I'm stuck, flummoxed and immerded. You see, this is an introduction to a Shakespeare play. It's full of quotations. But I can't tell whether the writer is quoting Bradley here, or simply resorting to his 'turd-brained', 'incoherent', 'semi-literate', 'lack-word' 'tic'.

For that which we would write about, we must find a word: of the rest we must not write.

*The Arden Second Series were the best editions of Shakespeare ever published. The Arden Third Series, or at least the ones I have read, are uniform tosh. Many of the annotations in this copy of Othello end in question marks. Some end in exclamation marks. I hang upon my altar, and I hoist my axe again.

P.S. There is a whole 'blog' devoted to unnecessary quotation marks. It can be found here.

P.P.S. This made me laugh.


  1. Bravo! One of my favorites in a while.

  2. Death to the snot-stuck scoundrels, I say. Even worse are those who use some sort of sign-language animated scare quotes in conversation.
    Bah !!

  3. But don't you get it?
    He is being 'ironic' flaunting the rules of your literary establishment...

    or he's off his rocker and has lost his (already tenuous) grip of the english language.

  4. The Czech writer Karel Capek (who, incidentally, did not invent the word robot - his brother Josef suggested it to him for use in the play Rossum's International Robots) calls these kinds of quote marks 'goose legs' and once wrote a little article about them, which can be read in 'Believe In People: The Essential Karel Capek'.
    My Grandma always used to put quote marks in her Christmas cards to me. "Happy Christmas, Lots of love, 'Grandma and Grandad'". Now I wonder if she was trying to tell me something.