Saturday, January 03, 2009

" 'Fire!' " he shouted.

This is what comes of being married to a person who thinks about this sort of thing for a living, but I've become addicted to the Blog of Unnecessary Quotation Marks. Not just orthography pedants, like the people who cluck over the misuse of it's/its on shop signs, these are rather obsessors over the various meanings and implications of quotation marks: do they mean the text has been quoted? or is irony implied? or is the real meaning the reverse?

The amusement factor comes from the common misuse of quotation marks to convey, rather than any of the above conventional meanings, mere emphasis. As a commonplace example, not long ago I spotted a workingman's pickup with this hand-lettered on the side: We "Fix" Appliances. Which, of course, makes you wonder what they in fact do to your dishwasher.

The all-time best (or "best") example:

As commenters note, it surely means either "This starts fires" or "Let there be a fire alarm." Or, perhaps, a Magrittesque "Ceci n'est pas une sirène d'alerte du feu."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your mish-mash of precepts reminds me of a funny sign I once saw in a grocery store. "Caution. Rain may cause floor to be slippery when wet."

I agree with you fully; the watering down of scripture in modern Catholic textbooks both puzzles and saddens me. I grew up in a small West Texas town among simple, blue collar folk. My grandparents never graduated from high school, but they had long passages of scripture memorized, all in King James English. I began memorizing scripture as soon as I was able to talk, and I learned all the "difficult" words as naturally as I learned any others.

Recently I've been helping my daughter with a research paper on John Calvin. Speaking of the scriptures he said, "Read Demosthenes or Cicero, read Plato, Aristotle, or any others of that class; I grant that you will be attracted, delighted, moved and enraptured by them in a surprising manner; but if, after reading them, you turn to the perusal of the sacred volume, whether you are willing or unwilling, it will affect you so powerfully, it will so penetrate your heart, and impress itself so strongly on your mind, that, compared with its energetic influence, the beauties of rhetoricians and philosophers will almost entirely disappear..."
I can't help but smiling in a sad way to think of how puzzling this quote this must sound to anyone fed on a steady diet of "The earth is full of your creatures."

6:39 PM  

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