Thursday, November 12

We Want the Right to Abuse Our Rights

This is an old picture, I don't remember which protest it's from.  There was some kind of political event, and some batch of random college kids turned out to make sure their voices were heard.

And their voices demanded free speeck.

More specifically, they demanded "free speeck," instilling a sense of irony with the use of open and closed quotation marks.  They wanted their speeck to be "free," that is, not free at all, and what they wanted free was their right to speeck, that is, not actually speeck at all.  Whatever that might be.

This quotation mark scramble comes up all the time.  ALL THE TIME.  As a copyeditor working with adults on every level, it is surprising and discouraging how rampant this misuse is.  In fact, it has been abused so widely, so frequently, throughout such a protracted period of time, I'm a little surprised that Merriam-Webster hasn't canonized it and declared it yet another valid convention of speech.

I tried to create a little mnemonic device to help people remember what effect quotation marks have: fresh fish.  Would you eat "fresh" fish, or even fresh "fish?"  It helps if I'm there in person to do the hated air-quotes.  This drives the point home, and hopefully it gives them something to remember next time they're writing anything out.  It's just an interesting semiotic breakdown, to me, that someone could look at quotes being used ironically but interpret them as emphatic.  Fresh "fish," to them, means it's fresh and it's doubleplus fish.  The freshness is regular and the fishness is superlative.  But gods preserve anyone to whom that sounds especially delicious.

As for the egregious misspelling of "free speech," I don't know how to address that.  It is far beyond my ken what may have been going through his head when he thought he would defend the nation's right to free speeck, but first he should have made sure he knew what the hell he was saying.

Or!  Maybe that's what he was protesting!  Maybe there was a parade of editors and proofreaders, and he was defending his right to abuse spelling and punctuation!  That thought only occurred to me just now, and it makes total sense.

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