The not-so-universal language of quotation marks

American English, Globish English (as spoken, beautifully, by Christine Lagarde, boss of the International Monetary Fund) and English English are not the same.

We like to believe that the way we use language, spelling and punctuation is correct though as liberal people we accept differences with equanimity. While we differ from the US and others whose English is not their native tongue, on the whole we can all communicate effectively.

Quotation marks or inverted commas, for example, are used differently on each side of the Atlantic. In England we open and close quotes with doubles and use singles only for a quote within a quote. In the US this usage is reversed.

The gravest error with quotation marks relates to attempts to imbue them with meaning. In the same way ‘air quotes’ are best avoided when speaking, it is always a mistake to use single quotes in an attempt to express a view. For example: They redesigned the lavatory to ‘improve’ it.

There is sufficient richness in the English lexicon to express dismay elegantly and there is no need to resort to punctuation if one wishes to be sarcastic.

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