- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) — Isn’t it “funny” how something can “really annoy” you for ages and then you discover via “the Internet” that the same thing “really annoys” thousands of “other people,” too?

The blight that Bethany Keeley exposes on her “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks (https://quotation-marks.blogspot.com) is of a benign sort, of course, nothing like global warming or endangered wildlife.

But it bothers people mightily just the same, as this 24-year-old grad student and language-lover has discovered from the hundreds, occasionally thousands of visitors she gets daily. And nary a day goes by when she doesn’t receive a bunch of e-mails with photographic evidence of quote abuse, misuse or overuse.

As in:

The sign in Fletcher, Okla., which advertised a tractor club’s annual show — “Labor Day Weekend.”

The restaurant billboard in Madison, Wis., which felt the need to put quotes around “Lunch” and “Dinners.”

The bathroom sign that asked visitors to Leave the Light “On” during business hours. (“On” was also underlined. Twice.)

The currently featured “Good Luck Amy” cake, which not only wastes frosting on those quote marks, but adds parentheses around the whole message.

There’s also a regular stop sign with a handwritten “Stop” beneath it, for good measure apparently. Then there’s the security guard at a rest area in Mississippi, a “security guard” sign beneath him that unwittingly casts doubt on the whole enterprise.

Miss Keeley comes from, you might say, a long line of unnecessary-quote watchers, the whole thing having started as a longtime family joke. A communications student who specializes in rhetoric at the University of Georgia in Athens, she started her blog in 2005 after her senior year in college in Michigan. (Her boyfriend, also a rhetoric student but in Maryland, is a frequent contributor. And proofreader.)

The blog wasn’t noticed much at first. But about six months ago, things started picking up. “You know how it happens — one person links to you, then others do. Also, everyone has camera phones now,” Miss Keeley says in a phone interview. Recently she was linked on Yahoo!, which quadrupled her traffic for a couple of days to about 2,000 hits — though her record is still about 3,000 in a day.

What draws people? The humor, but also partly, Miss Keeley admits, a sense of superiority, at least grammatically speaking — something she tries to avoid herself. “I don’t consider myself a prescriptivist or a pedant,” she says (really). “So I’m open to critiques of my own language. I make plenty of mistakes myself.”

Rampant quote abuse is a pet peeve of many writing teachers, of course. One of them, Pat Hoy, feels the larger problem is not the punctuation missteps — that’s bad enough — but the reliance on quotes themselves, by writers who should know better.

“I have a thing against overuse of quotations, period,” says Mr. Hoy, director of the expository writing program at New York University. “Whether in academic or bureaucratic writing, it’s giving up responsibility for what you’re writing. It’s a pushing aside of the responsibility to be the major thinker in the piece.”

In fact, one of the “most wonderful” (sorry) rejections Mr. Hoy ever got, he says, was from the editor of a literary journal, who turned down an essay he’d submitted because it seemed written “to support your many apt quotations.”

“That was a lifelong lesson,” Mr. Hoy says. But there’s something worse than quote abuse on the written page, he says. Much worse.

“Nothing,” he says, “is as bad as academics standing at a podium, indicating quote marks with their fingers as they talk.”

As for Miss Keeley, she blogs on, alerting readers to the availability of fresh-fruit “smoothies” in Venice Beach, Calif., but also linking them to blogs by others with the same kind of linguistic concerns. (For example, a blog that tracks abuses of the world “literally.”)

It’s all given Miss Keeley a heady taste of Internet notoriety, one she well knows is essentially fleeting.

“I never thought when I was a small child that I’d be a punctuation celebrity,” she says. “But apparently this is my 15 minutes of fame.”

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