"Don't be dumb" “You’re smart!”
August 11, 2017 2:05 PM   Subscribe

Some people want you to care so much about typography that they create single-serve sites to make their points. Smart Quotes for Smart People tells you when you should use smart quotes (basically always) and how to do it. For a (very slightly) broader view, take a look at Quotes and Accents. If you want a wonderful and more in-depth guide to typography, Butterick's Practical Typography has you covered, including a 10 minute introduction to the 5 rules you need to know.
posted by blahblahblah (32 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
The simplest method is to use charset utf-8 on your webpages and just type or copy and paste the actual punctuation marks.

“But that gets tedious very quickly,” I said. “John Gruber has a free plug-in called SmartyPants that converts dumb quotes to smart quotes automatically—and it handles em-dashes and ellipses too…There’s a stand-alone web version where you can drop in Markdown copy and get back both HTML source and rendered text, bristling with the proper quotes and ready for pasting.”
posted by Iridic at 2:20 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]

DevPetPeeve #37: when they use 'smart' quotes on code snippets online, and you have to search/replace them when trying to get it to work. Using smart quotes when it's not needed is dumb.
posted by signal at 2:21 PM on August 11 [22 favorites]

Pedants gonna pedant.
posted by msbutah at 2:46 PM on August 11

When you should use smart quotes (basically never. Never do it. I will cut you.)
posted by RustyBrooks at 2:53 PM on August 11 [16 favorites]

Unless you're willing to do what the author says, and type them instead of trying to get the system to use the automatically, AND nobody will ever edit your document and possibly change the flow. Then smart quotes are barely permissible.
posted by Pacrand at 3:07 PM on August 11 [5 favorites]

DevPetPeeve #37: when they use 'smart' quotes on code snippets online, and you have to search/replace them when trying to get it to work.

This is why actually you should never use smart quotes.
posted by Jimbob at 3:15 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]

Kind of seems like Butterick doesn't like being linked to.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 3:26 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]

I like my quotes the way I like my toothpicks: Straight, dumb, and interchangeable.
posted by sfenders at 3:58 PM on August 11 [11 favorites]

Lotta smart quote hate here. It should be obvious that typographic quotes aren't appropriate for code.

A more subtle point is that there are several utf8 characters for the typographic quote, and they are not always represented identically in a particular typeface. For HTML content, there are specific entities which will yield the best result, but none of the "smart" systems employ these and many CMSes don't allow them to be entered manually.

But the smart thing that's really dumb and yanks my chain every time is when Word uses the wrong one for decades -- e.g., '80s, '90s.
posted by oheso at 4:19 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]

The other thing that really puts me round the bend is people who use the backtick for an apostrophe.
posted by oheso at 4:23 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]

I suppose if all your writing is intended to be consumed by computers rather than humans, smart quotes would seem like a problem.
posted by adamrice at 4:35 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]

I feel like this is something that could be solved with a hotkey script. Ctrl+shift+' for open quote, alt+shift+' for close quote, leave shift+' as straight quote.

Why yes, I do have hotkey scripts for em dashes and ellipses. Also the degree symbol, a selection of accented vowels, bullet points, and a number of other difficult-to-type characters. Sooooo helpful.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:29 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]

You could even get cute and let left ctrl and right ctrl do different things, but I feel like it's a little blasphemous to do that sort of thing with the modifier keys.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:31 PM on August 11

adamrice… what is the backtick for, anyway? Like, what is its original intent and why was it considered important enough to be included on standard keyboards?
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:32 PM on August 11

what is the backtick for, anyway?

For bringing down the command line console so you can enter the cheat codes.
posted by straight at 6:08 PM on August 11 [5 favorites]

The backtick's official name is “grave accent” which hints at its use -- it's a diacritical mark in some languages, and my bet would be that this is why it was included on typewriter keyboards while “ was not. Compromises had to be made, there was only enough room for so many keys.
posted by axiom at 6:11 PM on August 11

Some fun links I found while others beat me to the comment:

- People using typewriters also used the double quotation mark to approximate an umlaut.

- This page has an image of a Remington typewriter for Spanish with keys for both acute (é) and grave (è) accents, separate from the apostrophe.

- Eventually the designers of ASCII included the characters ^, `, and ~ for the same reason, to represent common diacritics. I guess they thought the apostrophe would do to encode the acute accent.
posted by a car full of lions at 6:21 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]

Not to abuse the edit window, there's a neat discussion of how accented characters were produced on typewriters in the comments of the first link.
posted by a car full of lions at 6:24 PM on August 11

And then there's Wordpress, which gets it wrong no matter what.

  Ctrl+shift+' for open quote, alt+shift+' for close quote

Yeah, that's what the Compose key is for: Compose + ' + < → ‘, Compose + ' + > → ’.
posted by scruss at 6:25 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]

ASCII is text, text ASCII.
posted by escabeche at 7:29 PM on August 11

well, I've learned to avoid grammar nazis, but I'll be damned if I have to look out for punctuation nazis too
posted by anadem at 8:56 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]

I think you mean “I’ll be damned.”
posted by jimw at 10:10 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]

After the <q> tag stopped providing curly quotes, I started typing them in via the numeric keypad. When I was posting a lot from a Chromebook that didn't have a keypad, I got into the habit of typing out the HTML entities. Even after I went back to a keyboard with a keypad, it's just quicker for me to keep my fingers on the home row and keep typing. So, every one of those quotes around the titles of the links I've posted over the last several years is a typed out HTML entity. As are the vast majority of the ellipses and em- and en-dashes.
posted by ob1quixote at 10:42 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]

DevPetPeeve #37: when they use 'smart' quotes on code snippets online, and you have to search/replace them when trying to get it to work.
You peeps should check out Perl 6. We support 'smart' quotes.... and really almost any other quote thing that is defined by Unicode as open/close pairs of characters and whatever other stuff you can find that Unicode defines...

$ perl6 -e 'my $x = q 「foo」; say $x;'
$ perl6 -e 'my $x = q ≪foo≫; say $x;'
$ perl6 -e 'my $x = “You’re smart!”; say $x;'
You’re smart!
Cut-N-Paste works for me. :P
posted by zengargoyle at 11:32 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]

hey fellow typography nerds

if you are sensitive to quotation style, don't worry about the next post

there definitely isn't anything there that will make you scream inside

(apologies to Fizz! it's an excellent post!)
posted by aws17576 at 11:49 PM on August 11

``At least we all agree this style is stupid''

(It makes me see red)

I used Windows for a long time, then switched to macOS for a decade... and I'm always struck at how difficult it is to type special characters on Windows now that I'm forced to use it for work. Why hasn't Microsoft implemented system-wide shortcut keys for common special characters like macOS does? A 2 or 3 key combination isn't that hard to remember, especially if I can bring up the keyboard viewer and see exactly ant I get when pressing specific modifiers, but who the heck can remember and endless string of 4 digit alt text codes? The only thing that's saved me SOME aggravation is turning on math autocorrect in Office so that I can enter Greek characters without having to go look them up. Curly quotes are the least of my worries...
posted by caution live frogs at 5:03 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]

``At least we all agree this style is stupid''

Mistakes like that are probably made by someone copying and pasting from Latex, a common typesetting program, in which you indicate opening (`) and closing (') quotation marks with separate characters. Most of the time, this creates a problem where people type "something" into Latex, which outputs a final document in which the opening quotation marks look like closing quotation marks. Which would look something like this: ”something”.

Latex seems to come from the 'dumb' computing mindset, where everything needs to be explicitly defined, which allows for exactly repeatable output without potential errors arising from things like smart quotes. ”This” is an example of how smart quotes can cause errors when you don't type them in the expected progression, or when for some reason the program can't parse the number or order of smart quotes.
posted by ianhattwick at 7:09 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]

It is possible to implement smart quotes entirely in a font itself using the same mechanism as ligatures, which both alleviates the need of a human being to manually input nonsense like Shift + Alt + < " and also lets the text be copy-pasted preserving the normal straight quote character. It also doesn't require any additional libraries/plugins beyond OpenType support. If you care about smart quotes, put your efforts towards convincing font designers to implement them in their fonts, and not towards trying to convince users that they should be typing Alt+0147/Alt+0148 for their own good.
posted by Pyry at 12:57 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]

When formatting e-books for the kindle and other e-readers, you have to dumben your quotes. I recently did this, and it was interesting seeing how the things I'd learned about typography and design for print back in the desktop publishing days had to be unlearned for dealing with text that you can't control the presentation of.

Smashwords, a self-publishing platform, has a really good formatting guide for ebooks. It walks people through basics like using first-line indents instead of tabs, as well as more challenging elements of formatting.
posted by Orlop at 7:46 AM on August 13

I never learned the difference between different dashes or quotes in school, so it's almost impossible to make me care about them now. There's really no practical difference between straight quotes and curly quotes that I can see.
posted by runcibleshaw at 8:14 AM on August 13

There's really no practical difference between straight quotes and curly quotes that I can see.

In printed materials, curly quotes look better, which I guess is an aesthetic rather than practical difference. Straight quotes can also seem visually intrusive, as they can look relatively big and not blend in with the text font as well, but I wouldn't be surprised if most people don't notice. It's the kind of thing I think you need to learn to notice. Combined with other common typography errors made my amateurs, like too-big fonts, lack of kerning in titles (adjusting the space between letters so it looks equivalent), poor leading (space between lines), and using both first-line indent and space between paragraphs, it can make a book or magazine look amateurish even if people can't quite say why that is.

Good typography improves readability, but a single "flaw" in isolation, like straight quotes, isn't a big deal. It's when there are several problems that the reading experience is really compromised.
posted by Orlop at 9:00 AM on August 13 [2 favorites]

I have quotation mark PTSD I swear to god. I am a graphic designer, and at my previous place of employment, we produced an 800 page catalog for RV parts and accessories. For item dimensions, we had to use straight quotes for inches. However, we had to leave smart quotes enabled for other places in the catalog where we used quotation marks.

The PTSD comes in when you copy and paste text in Adobe Indesign, It will change straight quotes back into curly quotes, so any time I copied and pasted something GGRRRAAHHHHHHH RAGE
posted by Fleebnork at 7:35 AM on August 15

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