Quotes: Quoting Shakespeare

September 24, 2009: Issue 307

We use William Shakespeare’s words daily, often without knowing it. You’re quoting him when you say “elbowroom,” “cold comfort,” “heart’s desire,” “seen better days,” or “one fell swoop.”

But we often misuse Shakespeare’s words, too. A soothsayer warned Julius Caesar to “beware the ides of March.” We’ll warn you to beware these common mistakes:

Wherefore does not mean where. It means why. Juliet isn’t trying to locate Romeo. She’s asking why he must be Romeo, a Montague, and therefore the sworn enemy of her family. This is the same scene where she asks “What’s in a name?”

“To sleep, perchance to dream” is not a happy bedtime sentiment. When Hamlet says this, he’s contemplating suicide but worrying that, even in death, nightmares could still haunt him. The sleep he’s considering is permanent, so this phrase doesn’t belong in a story about bedspreads. (Be similarly careful with “to be or not to be.” It’s from the same soliloquy, and Hamlet is asking whether he should kill himself.)

We wait with “bated breath,” as Shylock says in The Merchant of Venice, not “baited breath.” Bated means restrained or reduced, from the same root as abate. Shylock is waiting breathlessly—not with worms in his mouth.

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Quotes: Quotes II

September 18, 2003: Issue 68

SIM STYLE: Is it OK to combine a partial quote with a full quote?
We try to avoid this in our publications. Before we get to the reasons why, let’s look at an example.
incorrect: The designer says “the light just dances around the room in the mornings. It creates such a warm and inviting atmosphere.”

Notice how one thought ends and another begins, all within the same quoted material? There are grammatical reasons not to do this (how attribution relates to dependent and independent clauses), but that it’s downright clunky should be reason enough. You can almost always fix the problem by moving attribution to separate the partial and full quotes, or simply turning part of the material into an indirect quote.
correct:“The light just dances around the room in the mornings,” the designer says. “It creates such a warm and inviting atmosphere.”
correct: The designer says light dances around the room in the mornings. “It creates such a warm and inviting atmosphere,” she says.

For more information, see Issue 64.

GRAMMAR: Isn’t Earth a proper noun that should always be capitalized?
Always? No. Most of the time, the common noun “earth” (lowercase) is correct.
It can refer to soil, a land mass (as distinguished from sea and sky), or—as
Webster’s 11th puts it—”the sphere of mortal life as distinguished from spheres of spirit life.” When referring to the planet itself, the proper noun “Earth” is correct.
correct: The homeowners removed five truckloads of earth to level the yard.
correct: Just a sliver of earth is visible across the bay.
correct: A simple holiday wish adorns the card: “Let heaven and earth rejoice.”
correct:A breathtaking picture of Earth from space inspired the color choices.

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Quotes: Quotes I

July 24, 2003: Issue 64
SIM STYLE & GRAMMAR: Let’s talk quotes, if I can be direct for a minute…
There are two basic kinds of quotes, and it’s important to know the difference.
direct quote: The EXACT words of a speaker or a writer, placed inside quotation marks.
indirect quote: The restatement or paraphrasing of a person’s words, not placed inside quotation marks.

Most well-told stories include direct quotes. Sprinkled in lightly, they add spice; used liberally, they can be the meat and potatoes of a story. It’s the job of a good interviewer to ask questions that elicit good responses, and it’s the job of a good writer to use those responses appropriately in copy.

What a writer CANNOT do is put words into a speaker’s mouth. If the speaker didn’t say it, the writer can’t write it. In other words, if a cheesemaker opines for five minutes about her love of Muenster, but the words “Muenster cheese is my life!” never actually come out of her mouth, a writer who directly quotes her as such is writing fiction. The essence of the quote may be true, but it must be paraphrased in this case.
incorrect: “Muenster cheese is my life!” Brie Romano says.
correct: Muenster cheese is Brie Romano’s life.

There are different schools of thought on how heavily direct quotes can be edited. Our magazines are not publications of record in the same way as, say, The New York Times. And it’s not our intention to make people look bad. In most cases, for us, correcting bad grammar (such as tense problems or basic word choice) is acceptable as long as doing so doesn’t drastically alter a quote.
original quote: “As soon as we come up over the hill and seen the house, we knew it was perfect,” Graham says.
correctly edited: “As soon as we came up over the hill and saw the house, we knew it was perfect,” Graham says.

If clarification is necessary for readers, new or changed words must be inserted in brackets to indicate they aren’t the speaker’s exact words.
original quote:“The fire that leveled it was the best thing that could have happened,” Betty says.
correctly edited: “The fire that leveled [the original house] was the best thing that could have happened,” Betty says.

Some writers record interviews to make sure they get quotes right. If you’re not recording, indicate direct quotes in your interview notes as you write them. That way you won’t have to try to remember later whether something you wrote was the speaker’s exact words. Either way, when in doubt, leave quote marks out.

For more information, see Issue 68.
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Quotes: Quotes around single words

March 1, 2007: Issue 179

“Put quotation marks around random words for decoration,” Dave Barry, writing as Mr. Language Person, once advised. Too many writers seem to take that idea seriously.

Single words and short phrases rarely require quotation marks.
incorrect: Sheer draperies were “a great idea,” he says.
incorrect: She was “thrilled” with her weight loss.

In cases like these, eliminate the quotation marks or use a longer piece of the direct quote.
correct: She was thrilled with her weight loss.
correct: “I was thrilled with this new, fit version of myself,” she says.

Put short passages in quotes when:

• You use a word in a different sense from its generally accepted meaning.
correct: An aquarium “porthole” adds to the illusion that this playroom is deep undersea.

• You use a newly coined or made-up term.
correct: “White-coat syndrome” can drive up your blood pressure in the doctor’s office.
correct: As Michael Scott of The Office might say, the design team had an “epiphery.”

• You use a technical term that won’t be familiar to most readers.
correct: Consider a food’s “nutrition density,” or the benefit you get for the number of calories.

More Mr. Language Person: Find a compilation of Dave Barry’s columns on grammar.

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Quotes: Quote attributions II

November 3, 2005: Issue 112

Every quote needs attribution. Just mentioning someone in the previous sentence doesn’t suffice.
incorrect: Sandra loves living so close to the water. “You just roll out of bed, and there’s the beach.”
correct: Sandra loves living so close to the water. “You just roll out of bed, and there’s the beach,” she says.

In attributions, people “say,” “suggest,” and “explain.” They might laugh, but they don’t laugh words. If you need to mention laughter, find another way.
incorrect: “I gave up and got carpet the same color as the dog’s fur,” she laughs.
correct: “I gave up and got carpet the same color as the dog’s fur,” she says, laughing.
correct: “I gave up and got carpet the same color as the dog’s fur,” she says with a laugh.

Don’t combine full and partial quotes. Use attribution or some other transition to separate them, or paraphrase the partial quote. (If anyone wants the technical explanation for this, let me know. I’ll spare the rest of you.)
incorrect: Sergei calls the new pool and deck area “a resort in our own backyard. We don’t even need to leave home to feel like we’re on vacation.”
correct: Sergei considers the new pool and deck area a backyard resort. “We don’t even need to leave home to feel like we’re on vacation,” he says.
correct: The new pool and deck area is “a resort in our own backyard,” Sergei says. “We don’t even need to leave home to feel like we’re on vacation.”

ON BHGStylebook.com: To find quote attribution tips from last week’s Style on the Go, or to search other old issues, go to www.BHGStylebook.com/style.php.

Compiled by Elizabeth Keest Sedrel. Have a question you’d like addressed in a future issue? E-mail it.

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Quotes: Quote attributions I

October 27, 2005: Issue 111

When attribution comes before a quote, use a comma to introduce a single sentence and a colon to introduce multiple sentences.
correct: Chris says, “Breakfast is a treat with the sunlight streaming in.”
correct: Chris says: “Breakfast is a treat with the sunlight streaming in. Even on the coldest mornings, our breakfast nook is bright and cheery. No one wants to leave the table.”

When your quote consists of more than one sentence, try to avoid waiting until the end for attribution.
acceptable: “Breakfast is a treat with the sunlight streaming in. Even on the coldest mornings, our breakfast nook is bright and cheery. No one wants to leave the table,” Chris says.
preferred: “Breakfast is a treat with the sunlight streaming in,” Chris says. “Even on the coldest mornings, our breakfast nook is bright and cheery. No one wants to leave the table.”

In attribution, the source comes before “says” unless a long string of identifying information makes that construction awkward.
incorrect: “This was a woodworker’s dream job,” says carpenter Joan Cobb.
correct: “This was a woodworker’s dream job,” carpenter Joan Cobb says.
correct: “This was a woodworker’s dream job,” says carpenter Joan Cobb, who stopped work on her own home to take on this project.

More on attributing quotes next week.

INDESIGN TIP:To set smart quotes (the curly quotation marks) as your default, go to the InDesign pulldown menu and select Preferences, then Type. Check the box next to “Use typographer’s quotes.”

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Quotes: Comma outside quotes

September 5, 2002: Issue 34

SIM STYLE: I’m seeing commas outside quotes in gardening stories. Is that correct?
Yes, SIM has changed its style on punctuation with cultivar names to reflect common botanical usage. Periods and commas should now fall OUTSIDE the single quotes used around cultivar names.
incorrect: His sentimental favorite, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy,’ gets a prime spot in the flowerbed.
correct: His sentimental favorite, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, gets a prime spot in the flowerbed.

For more information, see Plant Names Style section in the updated Garden Style section of the SIM Stylebook.

GRAMMAR: What’s wrong with the term “centered around”?
A center is a point, and by definition a point can’t surround something. Use “center on” or “revolve around,” but never “center around.”
incorrect: The design was centered around the antique armoire.
correct: The design revolves around the antique armoire.

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Quotes: Brackets in quotes

January 8, 2009: Issue 272

Avoid breaking up quotations with brackets. They interrupt the flow or, worse, leave a reader wondering what was really said.

If a quote doesn’t make sense without a parenthetical explanation, paraphrase it.
awkward: “I inherited this piece [the mahogany dresser] from my grandmother,” he says. “It’s as precious to me as her wedding band.”
awkward: “I inherited this [mahogany dresser] from my grandmother,” he says. “It’s as precious to me as her wedding band.”
preferred: He inherited the mahogany dresser from his grandmother. “It’s as precious to me as her wedding band,” he says.

Be especially careful about censoring words of questionable taste. Readers might mentally substitute a term far more vulgar than the one you deleted. Consider:
“I didn’t want to mess around with chemical pesticides and all that toxic crap,” she says.
“I didn’t want to mess around with chemical pesticides and all that toxic [stuff],” she says.
(The better option here would be to use less of the quote: “I didn’t want to mess around with chemical pesticides,” she says.)

C is for censorship: See how a few well-placed bleeps can make even a Sesame Street sketch sound as if it deserves a parental advisory. For the record, the missing word is count.

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Quotes: Abbreviations in quotes

May 29, 2003: issue 60
SIM STYLE: In quotes, shouldn’t I write out words that would be abbreviated elsewhere in copy?
No. SIM style should be applied to all copy, even if it’s part of quoted material.
incorrect: “Granite was our number one choice,” he says.
correct: “Granite was our No. 1 choice,” he says.

The same is true for numbers: Use words or numerals as appropriate.
incorrect: “We insisted on nine-foot ceilings,” she says.
correct: “We insisted on 9-foot ceilings,” she says.
incorrect: “I love the three-eighths-inch molding along the edge,” he says.
correct:“I love the 3/8-inch molding along the edge,” he says.

Note: SIM style should also be applied to previously published material excerpted in our magazines. Don’t change wording, but do apply appropriate spelling and punctuation.
original passage: “The golden orange, ochre and red walls create a warm ambiance.”
correctly excerpted in an SIM: “The golden-orange, ocher, and red walls create a warm ambience.” (Apply SIM style by hyphenating “golden-orange,” changing spelling of “ocher,” adding serial comma, and changing spelling of “ambience.”)

For more information, see Issue 19.

GRAMMAR: Sometimes an arch is just an arch.
We throw around the word “Palladian” an awful lot, but we don’t always get it right. Just because a window is arched doesn’t mean it’s Palladian. A true Palladian window consists of a large arch-top window flanked by two smaller vertical sidelights. Without the sidelights, it’s simply an “arch-top window.”

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Punctuation: Parentheses

January 12, 2006: Issue 122

When you use parentheses, make sure the rest of the sentence—grammar, punctuation, and context—makes sense without the parenthetical information.
incorrect: Jake (and his three horticulturally inclined daughters) spend all winter dreaming up garden plans. [Subject and verb don’t agree.]
correct: Jake (and his three horticulturally inclined daughters) spends all winter dreaming up garden plans.

incorrect: This fabric repels even the toughest stains (tomato juice, red wine, blood.) [There’s no end punctuation.]
correct: This fabric repels even the toughest stains (tomato juice, red wine, blood).

Don’t use initial caps or periods for a complete sentence embedded parenthetically in another sentence.
incorrect: They desperately wanted a place for family meals (The house has no dining room.) and a media room.
correct: They desperately wanted a place for family meals (the house has no dining room) and a media room.

When a complete-sentence parenthetical falls at the end of a sentence, it’s best to break it apart.
acceptable: He’s a champion bargain hunter (his favorite trophy is a $3 armchair).
preferred: He’s a champion bargain hunter. (His favorite trophy is a $3 armchair.)

In many cases, the sentence works just as well without parentheses.
correct: Jake and his three horticulturally inclined daughters spend all winter dreaming up garden plans.
correct: This fabric repels even the toughest stains: tomato juice, red wine, blood.
correct: He’s a champion bargain hunter; his favorite trophy is a $3 armchair.

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