This is a joint post by Scott Ramsay and Steve. The topic was Scott’s idea, and Scott (mostly) wrote the part about scare quotes. The boring stuff at the beginning is (mostly) Steve’s.
Photo: scare quotes by Scazon via flickr.com, CC BY 2.0.
Quotation marks seem, on the face of it, the simplest of the punctuation marks. Commas are rampantly misused; semicolons drive us to distraction; hyphens, en-dashes, and em-dashes are cryptic to all but the cognoscenti. But quotation marks? Nothing to it, right? Ah, not so fast…
The rarity of direct quotation
The most obvious function of quotation marks is (and hence their name) to mark a direct quotation. Issues of typography aside*, it’s pretty hard to get that wrong. Except in one way: should you use a direct quotation? Continue reading →
Image: Skinny-leg jeans. Not my legs. Or my jeans. © Claude Truong-Ngoc CC BY-SA 3.0, via wikimedia.org
I went shopping for jeans last week, and came home frustrated. (As usual, yes, I’m eventually heading somewhere.) I have calves of considerable circumference, and the fashion in men’s jeans now seems to be for a very narrow-cut leg. I took pair after pair into the fitting room, only to discover I couldn’t even force my leg through the available hole. I know, hold the presses – I’m old and I don’t like today’s fashion; and while we’re at it, all you kids get off my lawn!
But from my (admittedly weird) utilitarian point of view, I just don’t understand skinny-leg jeans. Here’s why. If you make a pair of skinny-leg jeans, they can be used by a skinny-leg person, but not – not even a little bit – by a non-skinny-leg person. If you make a pair of wide-leg jeans, they accommodate both. There’s a fundamental asymmetry in usefulness that makes it seem obvious, to me, how jeans ought to be sewn.
The same asymmetry is why I teach students to report exact P-values, not just “P<0.05” or “P>0.05”.* Continue reading →