Should we keep quotation marks just for "quotations"? March 16, 2014 8:34 AM   Subscribe

This isn't a callout of any particular person or example, but just something that I've noticed come up from time to time. When people use quotation marks to paraphrase someone else's argument or a thread's sentiment, or to make a point sarcastically, or to speak in a voice that isn't theirs, it can cause confusion at best and bad feeling at worst. I was wondering if it's something we could think about in terms of maybe coming up with some kind of alternative?

It can be hard to know exactly how people mean them, outside of the clear "I am quoting something directly" usage, and it feels like sometimes it wastes time in a conversation for people to get upset about a meaning that wasn't there, and for people to have to come back in and defend what they were really saying. It can also cause genuine offense if someone feels they have been misquoted, and it can sometimes seem in bad faith to attribute words to someone that they didn't use. I'm not talking about scare quotes around a word or phrase, but mainly when whole sentences are put in quotation marks, especially when referring to what another commenter has said.

Do people think this is worth considering? Is there anything else we could use instead? This is one suggestion, or I've seen people use >, or maybe something like -- blah blah -- ? I'm not talking about a rule as such, just something that might turn into site convention over time as people see it used. "Thoughts?"
posted by billiebee to Etiquette/Policy at 8:34 AM (101 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

Novel quotes, that is, statements that are in "" yet not appearing in that thread or FA, are useful for at least two reasons. One is, it shows how a statement or sentence has been received and understood, which can give valuable insight into someone's thinking.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:42 AM on March 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


One is, it shows how a statement or sentence has been received and understood, which can give valuable insight into someone's thinking.

My concern is that it can also can be used for more nefarious purposes to redirect an argument against the author's intentions. Or to be more charitable, it can be used when trying to mind read real intentions behind actual words, and in the heat of the moment, that is rarely a good idea.

I think it would be a good idea to only use quotes for direct quotations. I think it would be better, in terms of communication, to use other means for identifying paraphrase. At the very least, if using quotes for paraphrases, it should be clear if that is how it is being used, beyond just expecting everyone to keep up. Sometimes ambiguity in language usage can be resolved through context, but this is one of those things that strikes me as being more likely to be problematic and derailing to a discussion than helpful.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:00 AM on March 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


My approach to this is to (try to) include a clarifying phrase like "your comment sounded to me like..." when using it for paraphrase or similar.

I think just the awareness that this is a possible source of misunderstanding goes a long way, both for people writing comments (so you can try to be unambiguous) and for people reading them (so you can be charitable in interpreting the other guy's comment). But I'll be interested to see if anyone has other ideas.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:01 AM on March 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I agree.. What novel quotes here on the site usually do is take someone's actual words and twist them into a hyperbolic caricature of their opinion to make their position easier to mock.

Maybe using '___' to encapsulate paraphrases and the accepted "___" for actual quotations would work?
posted by misha at 9:05 AM on March 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


What novel quotes here on the site usually do is take someone's actual words and twist them into a hyperbolic caricature of their opinion to make their position easier to mock.

To be fair, users don't need novel quotes to do that.

I'm for anything that helps promote more comprehension, because I find especially in heated threads the amount of misreading that goes on is painful. I already try not to use quote marks when I'm not directly quoting someone, but if there's more that can help on my end I'm all ears.
posted by gadge emeritus at 9:12 AM on March 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


"...because I find especially in heated threads the amount of misreading that goes on is painful.."

But how much of that misreading is intentional, and thus not going o be affected by anything discussed in this thread?
posted by COD at 9:14 AM on March 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the paraphrasing in quotes is less than ideal - I've confused my own damn self when I've used it. I'm trying to be better about using italics for actual quotes, and then making it clear in my response that "this thing here in quotes" is my reading of what's in italics. There's no good standard, though.
posted by rtha at 9:16 AM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Good old "summary quotes." Really takes me back to the heady days of, what was it, 2006? 2007?
posted by dersins at 9:23 AM on March 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


When paraphrasing, you need to be clear that you're paraphrasing. Seems pretty obvious.

Sarcastic paraphrasing is not a hotsy-totsy idea, and it should not be encouraged. However, people get sarcastic in online conversations. A blanket ban would be impossible to enforce. The site would not be a better place if there was a Unikitty-style prohibition on all negativity. (Not that I don't love Unikitty herself.)

Actively creating straw men is bad. I've seen this happen on this site, through the mechanic of using quotes to imply that somebody had said something that they did not say. It's obnoxious and turns threads into one-on-one arguments.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:24 AM on March 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


How about carets instead of quote marks? ^Oh, sure, that will solve all our problems and nobody could possibly find a way to use them in an aggressive, counterproductive way.^
posted by Longtime Listener at 9:28 AM on March 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


people get sarcastic in online conversations. A blanket ban would be impossible to enforce

I agree with that, and tbh I tend towards sarcasm (though I really try not to be here as I learned early on it can be taken more hostilely than is meant.)

The main question I have is, is there a symbol or style of paraphrasing/being sarcastic/speaking in an ironic voice that we could adopt to make it more clear to the reader?

When I first joined here I can't remember seeing anything that told me: when you quote another commenter put the quote in italics. I just saw that's what most people tend to do so I followed suit. If people start to see #sarcastic paraphrase# rather than "sarcastic paraphrase" then maybe that would slowly catch on and stop a few misunderstandings?
posted by billiebee at 9:32 AM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


This is a shitty thing of which I am guilty on many, many counts. Sorry.

There is a way to do it while making sure it is obvious what you are doing, though. First quote the thing you are paraphrasing as you would normally quote something here on MetaFilter, then do the paraphrasing in a different style:

Seems pretty obvious.

"Duh, stupids."
posted by Sys Rq at 9:40 AM on March 16, 2014


"blah, blah, blah [paraphrase]"
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:41 AM on March 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


For sarcasm, we briefly and inconsistently used the hamburger: {/}

It never caught on as a Real Thing, though, the way italicizing the thing you are responding to has (as opposed to prefacing it with @username, for instance).
posted by rtha at 9:47 AM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


The hamburger meTa, from way back in 2009, wow.
posted by rtha at 9:49 AM on March 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


The problem with as-if quotation marks has been brought up here recently, yes, but it seemed to me that it was always mentioned by people who in one way or another were grumpy about the standpoint thus paraphrased (or put into their mouths in the paraphrased form), and who then used the quote format question as a GRAR tool (while the device in and of itself had, in fact, been used in a pretty straightforward manner).

Quote formatting in non-standarized environments (that is, in conversations and writing not formally controlled by the Chicago Manual of Style or something similar) is really a matter of rather vague conventions, or why else would everyone here, for example, simply know that a text in italics at the beginning of a comment is a verbatim quote of something someone else wrote upthread? It also varies internationally, so the non-native Englishists among us may find themselves all of a sudden at a disadvantage if Rules were Reinforced.

As much as I understand the sentiment, I'm feeling that this can't be solved. Your question is an example that summary quotes often just make things quicker to formulate. Because, whom do you quote when writing:

"[…] outside of the clear "I am quoting something directly" usage […]"

Not yourself verbatim, of course, but yourself imagining that you or someone else could have said a thing like "I am quoting something directly."

It all boils down to: since we don't use a style book that we all agreed on to follow on signup, the best way to write is to try make oneself clear, and to be upfront about one's local style solutions.

Being clear about what one wants to say benefits the writer, above all others.
posted by Namlit at 9:54 AM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


ah jinxy mc jinxerton about the italics thing
posted by Namlit at 9:55 AM on March 16, 2014


How about carets instead of quote marks?

Aren't carets already used for making nearly unclickable hyperlinks to Wikipedia, next to a non-hyperlinked word, for no good reason?
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 9:56 AM on March 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


The whole "quick and somewhat catty summary of another person's argument" thing can come across as very rude and disingenuous, yes. Half the time it seems like the summary misunderstands, deliberately or incindentally, the original argument/intent, anyway. Clarifying phrases can help, but I think the site would be better with more sincerity and less snark, overall. Maybe a little more empathy and engagement before going for the throat (which is more understandable when there's a history of either particular users or particular hurtful concepts popping up again and again, but still). Instead of, "I'm going to put you in your place by making you look like you said something du~mb!" maybe just try to sincerely explain what you dislike about a thing, what you find problematic, etc. That assumes sincerity on the part of everyone else (which is usually not always the case), but the alternative is you come across as a jerk ready to shut everyone who isn't you down.

There are certain arguments that shouldn't really happen in civil places, and for those I...don't know; but for everything else, a little more humility, honesty and sincerity couldn't kill this site.
posted by byanyothername at 9:58 AM on March 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


I can't think of much else that is more infuriating than to get misquoted deliberately without any recourse.

The simple solution is to use quotation or tick marks only when:

1. What is between them is what someone up-thread has actually said.

2. The attribution to another user is unambiguous and correct.

To enforce this, timeouts or bannings are handed out to people who do not use quotation marks correctly, regardless of their status on the site or the popularity of their views.

On a site nearly entirely composed of comments, there isn't much more that is sancrosanct than quoting someone truthfully and accurately.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:01 AM on March 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


And that's exactly where I believe the problem sometimes lies: not the exact format of a quote or paraphrase, but its accuracy and how its being played in a discussion.
posted by Namlit at 10:04 AM on March 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


For sarcasm, we briefly and inconsistently used the hamburger: {/}

It never caught on as a Real Thing, though

{\} never caught on, but actually typing the word HAMBURGER did for a good while there (you're welcome!) until everyone -- everyone -- got sick of it.

(More in HAMBURGER history here, here, here, and here.)
posted by Sys Rq at 10:05 AM on March 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


The hamburger meTa, from way back in 2009, wow.

Hah. That is thread is great. Classic metafilter
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:06 AM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


The hamburger meTa, from way back in 2009, wow.

I'm not looking I'm not looking…
posted by Namlit at 10:09 AM on March 16, 2014


rtha: The hamburger meTa, from way back in 2009, wow.

I have never regretted anything I've done on this site -- post, comment, or ask -- except that fucking MeTa. Even though I'm not the person who came up with "HAMBURGER," it haunts me to this day.
posted by tzikeh at 10:09 AM on March 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


Dammit Sys Rq....
posted by tzikeh at 10:11 AM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


*lights bundle of sage, passes it around the thread*
posted by rtha at 10:12 AM on March 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


I absolutely get the reasoning for wanting to clarify this, but in English usage in general, it's totally conventional to use quotation marks as a way of marking ironic comments or hypothetical, coined, invented, or otherwise not-actually-quoted expressions. For instance, the APA style guide instructs writers to use double quotation marks that way.

I just think it would be difficult to enforce a punctuation convention that conflicts with normal usage.
posted by FelliniBlank at 10:26 AM on March 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


Since the charm of sarcasm is in saying one thing and meaning another, going out of one's way to highlight its deployment seems like a nonstarter.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:40 AM on March 16, 2014


Metafilter: the amount of misreading that goes on is painful
posted by dogwalker at 10:41 AM on March 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think summary quotes can be a good or bad thing. It's not about the quotes themselves, but how they are used.

Obviously, when someone wants to argue more than they want to understand, things don't go well. They'll proclaim an uncharitable reading of someone else's comment, and put it in quotes. It only makes people angrier at each other.

But there are often situations where two people are arguing, but really just talking past each other. This happens so often in real life, as well. I find it goes a lot better when someone says:
I'm not sure we're talking about the same thing. When you say "X", it sounds to me like you mean "Y", but that seems rather unlikely. Could you explain your position in a way that clearly distinguishes it from that, so I can understand?
posted by vasi at 10:43 AM on March 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I don't think there's any need for an extra convention here, because this is a case of collective user error. If a discussion generates too much misunderstanding, whether from sarcasm, not reading the FA or simply poor expression, someone's doing it wrong. Get clarification where necessary, write as clearly as possible, and you alleviate this problem rather a lot.

If someone deliberately oversimplifies a previous comment, to the point of causing misinterpretation, well, isn't there a flag for that?
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 10:45 AM on March 16, 2014


"I just think it would be difficult to enforce a punctuation convention that conflicts with normal usage."

Right. Quotation marks are conventionally and widely used for paraphrasing. It is simply not the case that quotation marks are reserved only for accurately quoting things that actual people actually said.

It's even the case that journalists and editors widely use quotation marks with alterations. This is a hobbyhorse of sorts of Mark Liberman's, and every time he's posted about this there have been some journalists/editors who are aghast at the idea of published quotes not being perfectly accurate, many more who point out that quotes are regularly "corrected" for grammar and generally to reflect the conventions of written language, not spoken (which raises the interesting and problematic issue of when journalists/editors don't do this; what and why they are signaling), and no small number who attest that this is regular practice. And these are journalists discussing published quotes attributed to actual people!

Paraphrase is common, useful, and often necessary and unavoidable. Most of the time when I recount a conversation to someone later, I have no record and fallible memory of the actual words. But insisting that anything that is paraphrased be written outside of quotes is both completely contrary to convention and perplexing because the other half of the function of quotation marks in written English is to signal that the voice isn't the writer's (or isn't the writer's present voice). And that's why people naturally use quotation marks when paraphrasing — they're simply following the convention that this usage indicates it's something not in their own voice.

So, per FelliniBlank's point, he's completely correct that because this is convention, any insistence on an alternate convention within MetaFilter is doomed to failure.

Instead, what is possible is an adoption of a two-fold community practice.

First, all the issues with bad-faith and misleading paraphrasing in quotes can be reduced simply by lowering the community tolerance for such rhetorical devices. Disallowing quoted paraphrase isn't necessary. Just more community pressure against what is clearly flash-point habit.

Second, when writing quoted paraphrases in good-faith, just make it explicit that it's a paraphrase. This will take a bit of practice for many of us, but it won't be that difficult. I really think my suggestion above would work fine: just including a [paraphrase] in the quote. Or, more elegantly, within the flow of the sentence make it explicit that it's a paraphrase. Problem solved.

A new or unfamiliar quoting convention for paraphrase isn't necessary and would just cause confusion.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:51 AM on March 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


What novel quotes here on the site usually do is take someone's actual words and twist them into a hyperbolic caricature of their opinion to make their position easier to mock. (emphasis mine.)

Agreed. This could all be avoided if the people doing that would use the standard MetaFilter convention of including the part of a comment you are responding to in italics and placing it at the top of your own comment. If you're not replying to a specific quote but rather a comment in general, including a link to the original comment helps to put the response in context. I find that even the most strongly-worded responses, when made in good faith, usually include one or the other. (I think anything beyond that, like including the original poster's name, should be optional.)

I've also noticed that when there has been a genuine misunderstanding of a comment and someone points it out, most people are very conciliatory. When it's done deliberately and someone points it out (usually with the actual comment being misquoted) people rarely step up to offer a mea culpa. It's really frustrating, but I tell myself that it's only the one person who has viewed me through their own words and the rest of the people reading the thread see through the bullshit.

I emphasized the words "on the site" because most of the general-usage explanations of quotes don't really matter to me as they apply to MetaFilter.

billiebee, I've been playing around with making this exact MeTa for a while so thank you for making it.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:52 AM on March 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


I think this is a good suggestion. I'm going to watch myself when it comes to summarizing peoples arguments from now on. Thanks OP!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:08 AM on March 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


The traditional approach is: Use italics to be clear that you're paraphrasing, not quoting. But that doesn't work on this website, since italics means you're quoting. If you do a direct quote in italics, it won't work to then paraphrase someone in italics, because the reader will assume it's all one quotation. So we use the reverse of the usual convention. "Directly quote in italics; paraphrase in quotes."
posted by John Cohen at 11:13 AM on March 16, 2014


Sometimes the paraphrase/summary quotes are being used because multiple users and comments are describing one thing.

For instance, I might describe a bunch of you as "Quotations marks used for summary positions are bad" side of the argument. That's not because I'm trying to misquote you, but because I'm trying to address or indicate a bunch of different commenters and their argument.

There are other ways of doing that, I know, but it's not exactly nefarious or bad-faith to do it with quotation marks.
posted by jaguar at 11:15 AM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oops, in my example I linked to the wrong comment. It should have linked to misha's comment here. (Mods, if you think it's worth correcting for clarity, feel free to change it.)
posted by Room 641-A at 11:16 AM on March 16, 2014


"meh"
posted by y2karl at 11:30 AM on March 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


It wouldn't hurt if there was a standard way to quote on here, and maybe having a button for that would make more people use it. I do it like so
> this is a quote
... but it's a lot of work. Seems there's a pony in here somewhere...
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:32 AM on March 16, 2014


"The traditional approach is: Use italics to be clear that you're paraphrasing, not quoting."

"Traditional approach" with actual printed works; and only then under some house styles. Italicization wasn't available to most anglophones when writing, perhaps isn't even still.

"It wouldn't hurt if there was a standard way to quote on here..."

There is. It's been established for many years and is almost universally followed.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:34 AM on March 16, 2014


When I'm reading MeFi I'm pretty aware that anything in quotation marks probably isn't a quote. Italics is used for that.
posted by mzurer at 11:44 AM on March 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


"When I'm reading MeFi I'm pretty aware that anything in quotation marks probably isn't a quote. Italics is used for that."

That's not my convention. Which is to say, if I'm quoting someone's particular choice of words, or a phrase, or even sometimes a short sentence, I'm not going to set it apart as above.

The quote+italic convention is MetaFilter's way of blockquoting in service to discourse; it doesn't merely signal a direct quote. It signals back-and-forth and implicitly calls it to the quoted person's attention. But many simple and (especially) short direct quotes are just quoted in place and not set apart.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:58 AM on March 16, 2014


"OK"
posted by mzurer at 12:14 PM on March 16, 2014


I would like to see less of this. I can't recall ever having seen paraphrasing using fake quotes employed for the purpose of a generous interpretation. It seems to always be used by the quoter to indicate a worst possible interpretation - suitable for attack of course.
posted by vapidave at 12:29 PM on March 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


"I put direct quotes in proper double quote marks, like thus."

'I paraphrase and put words in people's mouths using the godless single quote marks, like thus, but really, paraphrasing is a shitty way of communicating through writing, since odds are the thing you're paraphrasing is also in text, and readily available to be easily quoted verbatim, I think.'
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:31 PM on March 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


I long-quote from other posts in the thread in italics, long-quote from outside the thread in blockquote tags, use quotation marks for individual words or phrases being quoted, and try to make clear that I am paraphrasing by remembering to say "I'm paraphrasing, but" or "I understand you to be saying that", without then using quotation marks or italics... that seems to work, broadly.

I think putting things somebody didn't exactly, verbatim, say in quote marks is a pretty bad idea, not least because it's going to derail the conversation, because they will accuse you of putting words in their mouth, you will defend your decision to use quotation marks for what was clearly a paraphrase, and suddenly the thread is about punctuation, with a side order of angry. It's impossible to guarantee that some sort of fight won't be set off by anything, but this seems to be a pretty well-observed way to set a fight off, IME.

On the other hand, it's impossible to legislate for - people write in different ways, and even without malice some of those ways are going to be intensely irritating or upsetting for others. Best one can hope for is to identify and discourage some of the more universal irritants.
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:32 PM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


"It wouldn't hurt if there was a standard way to quote on here..."

There is. It's been established for many years and is almost universally followed.

Cool. What is it? Is there any way I could have known this?
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:38 PM on March 16, 2014


"Cool. What is it? Is there any way I could have known this?"

Oh, did you mean via the UI? Such a suggestion has been mooted a number of times. I don't recall what the mod response was.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:53 PM on March 16, 2014


shakespeherian: Since the charm of sarcasm is in saying one thing and meaning another, going out of one's way to highlight its deployment seems like a nonstarter.

I made what seemed to me to be a characteristically sarcastic comment the other day poking fun at the fact that so many MeTa's start off with that trite question, and well, I don't know how it wasn't obvious. Anyway, yeah, I'd rather people misread me than use some sort of hamburger tag.
posted by gman at 1:03 PM on March 16, 2014


No, I meant: what is the standard way to quote on here? I mostly just emulate what I see others do and hope I'm getting it right. Can I look it up somewhere?
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:04 PM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Frankly, I think the idea of not using quotations in paraphrases just serves to provide more fodder for attacking oppressed groups. No one ever responds to a paraphrase that they think doesn't reflect what they wrote with "I think you've misunderstood what I meant, let me try rephrasing", it's always "You're deliberately misrepresenting what I said!" (Hint: If someone paraphrased you to sound like an asshole, yes it might be that they're an asshole and misrepresenting what you wrote, but there's a good chance you're being an asshole.)
posted by hoyland at 1:31 PM on March 16, 2014


I think that this is work that commenters and comment-readers are just going to have to do.

FWIW when I directly quote someone I tend to set it apart with the blockquote tags, but I don't think there's any reason for that to be a standard of any sort.
posted by kavasa at 2:07 PM on March 16, 2014


No, I meant: what is the standard way to quote on here? I mostly just emulate what I see others do and hope I'm getting it right. Can I look it up somewhere?

I'm so steeped in sarcasm that I don't know if you are serious or not, but if you are the standard way to quote is to copy the comment, paste it into your own comment and italicize it, illustrated above.

This:
> this is a quote
is used by a minority of users and done by a greasemonkey script some users have installed that allows them to press a button or something and it automatically creates quote. Not sure exactly how it works because I don't have it installed.
posted by nooneyouknow at 2:15 PM on March 16, 2014


"FWIW when I directly quote someone I tend to set it apart with the blockquote tags, but I don't think there's any reason for that to be a standard of any sort."

My sense is that this isn't the local convention because it calls too much attention to itself and breaks up the flow of reading. I still use blockquotes when quoting something lengthy, especially from off-site.

Back in the day I would use blockquotes and attribution with a link. But MeFi really seems to have settled on a "use quotes and italics" convention.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:15 PM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh, I guess using quotation marks along with italics is mostly my own convention. Most people seem to just use italics and it's its own paragraph. I guess I can't help but emphasize that it's a quote by including quotation marks, probably because I feel that someone might just italicize a paragraph for some reason other than quoting someone.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:19 PM on March 16, 2014


I think it's rather easy in context to let people know you are paraphrasing them in an unambiguous way.

For example,

Like when you said (paraphrasing), "All .... suck!"

Or like Ivan Fyodorovich suggested in terms of tagging it explicitly before the last quotation mark.

I think the initial answer is to encourage some behavior by the commenter that makes it obvious, even a specific convention is not immediately forthcoming.

It would have to be a site culture thing that enforces it, though, rather than regulating it. However, I would definitely be okay if we got to the point where it wasn't noted explicitly or with a convention that could be explained in the flow of the conversation, we would consider that to be in pretty bad form and let people know.
posted by SpacemanStix at 2:32 PM on March 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


paraphrasing is a shitty way of communicating through writing, since odds are the thing you're paraphrasing is also in text, and readily available to be easily quoted verbatim, I think.

If only everyone expressed themselves clearly and concisely, I'd agree with you.
posted by John Cohen at 3:19 PM on March 16, 2014


No to formal rules on how to quote/paraphrase!
Yes to more community calling BS on bad faith "'^quoting^'"

...also the Mefiquote (pronounced MEEfiequoTEY) script is awesome.
posted by Mngo at 3:28 PM on March 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


When I'm reading MeFi I'm pretty aware that anything in quotation marks probably isn't a quote. Italics is used for that.

Yes. I’ve never even considered that something in quotation marks was meant to be a direct quote, on this site anyway. I say we put hearts around quotes, 3 on each end.
posted by bongo_x at 4:19 PM on March 16, 2014


I don't know what this is called and I can't figure out how to google it. I see and do this sometimes in other places:

/end rant
/irony

Good faith paraphrasing could look like this:

blah blah blah/my take

Or just:

"blah blah blah" (my take)

But like everyone else is saying paraphrase-as-hyperbole is obnoxious.
posted by vincele at 4:52 PM on March 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


On metafilter, italics are for real quotes, and quotes are for interpretation things. It's the culture of MeFi, and I think it's well established because you see it in like all of the threads with users quotin other users. Something really egregious would be italicizing someone's quoted comment, then editing that text. But nobody really does that so far as I can think of any examples.

I think it's really weird to try and introduce new syntax on metafilter like we've all been running python 2.7 and it's time to use python 3 because it's new and our sentences won't be backwards compatible and be interpreted in our brains properly, and holy shit we could get hacked into if we don't.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:02 PM on March 16, 2014


It's a good point, italicizing text is basically the main convention for repeating something with exact fidelity here, so we don't really need another.

I do agree that hyperbolic paraphrasing in general can be obnoxious. I know I've done it before and I'll try to avoid that in the future.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:29 PM on March 16, 2014


I don't italicize, I use the <cite> tag.

Which the current style sheet renders as italic text.

I'm assuming that whenever we settle on a new site-wide convention pb will drop in a new style sheet and everything will show up the new way automatically. Right? Right guys? Right?

*sigh* Writing your comments in anticipation of the semantic web is like being the only one who shows up to the party in a costume. Lonely and weird.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:44 PM on March 16, 2014 [12 favorites]


There's a <cite> tag?!
posted by en forme de poire at 9:48 PM on March 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


"No, we shouldn't"
posted by Renoroc at 9:57 PM on March 16, 2014


The hamburger meTa, from way back in 2009, wow.

The sad thing is that 2009 doesn't seem that long ago. I feel like time is accelerating and I'm racing towards my own death.
posted by mecran01 at 10:04 PM on March 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm against any sort of actual community standard of "we don't do this here" against this, because it's an easy way to spot and obviously point at someone being a prick if it's seriously abused.

Full quotes in italics, or a blockquote even are quotes. snarky or not summary quotes that are just "in quotes" are not something i think it's worthwhile to legislate here.

People are going to be disingenuous assholes with or without this. Deal with individual instances of people being cocks. Trying to make some rule about this feels like banning cigarettes lighters because some people do drugs with them.

I also, and i may be in the minority here i realize, think that sometimes, once in a while, the summary in quotes, and yes at times even a bit dickish or snarky is completely fucking deserved and on point. If you look at favorite counts on some posts that do this it feels like i'm not completely alone in this either.
posted by emptythought at 11:22 PM on March 16, 2014


> There's a <cite> tag?!

Yeah. I no longer have any idea where or when I picked it up. Probably saw someone else use it and did a "View Source". I'd be curious to know if I'm supposed to do it, or if it's just happens to work.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:47 AM on March 17, 2014


The reason hamburger never caught on was perhaps because it 'isn't'; so it was always like that "this is not a pipe" image, a pipe, but yet clearly—not. I guess it is better than having hover text that says "Not!"
{/] Acorn? {—] Anchor? [|] Ciabata bun Sandwich? {$] Burger? {|] Hamburger? {$} Sloppy Joe (the Echidna of bun based eating vessels; whatever goes)

{\} That is just not a traditional Hamburger; the traditional hamburger is a union of two different buns, a top and a bottom, one is domed, one is flat; those two buns have stuff between them. That is tradition! What? Next you tell me it has sesame seeds on the top and the bottom?! Anarchy! I've seen how things changed after the ciabatta burger arrived, it's basically two bottom buns. I just don't get it. And I am so afraid that it will be more delicious than the original; I must ban it for all. /Acorn

We all wish we could be like Linnaeus inventing taxonomies of memes informally charting the descent of emoticons, or an Snarchaeologist designing seriations of bun based eating vessels; oh, now I get it, it says hamburger, but it isn't which is why it hints at untruthiness... I get it now. But imagine the parallel 'verse where someone said instead "hey that looks like a mutant acorn"; it's (maybe [always been] one day woulds't {is-to-be-has-n't}) one of the darker timelines (but on the +- side, more botanist friendly, less USCentric).
posted by infinite intimation at 3:50 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm not really in favor of trying to introduce a novel punctuation convention, but I agree that people should make it clear when they are paraphrasing. I usually accomplish this by simply mentioning explicity that I am paraphrasing rather than quoting. Often I'll say "To paraphrase, you said [blah blah blah]". Other times I'll just put "(paraphrasing)" after the paraphrased comment. It works for me.
posted by Scientist at 4:27 AM on March 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


outside of the clear "I am quoting something directly" usage,

The fact that you broke the rule you proposed while proposing it seems salient here. This is sometimes called a performative contradiction, and while it doesn't actually prove that we shouldn't adopt the proposal, it does hint at why we might not want to: especially given the italicized-quote convention, it's useful to have paraphrase marks that allow us to write fictionalized dialogue into our comments.

"I agree anotherpanacea! What a wise thing to say!" is perhaps not what you were thinking here. But at least now you've read the line to yourself (in my head it sounds like a high-pitched Monty Python accent.)
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:34 AM on March 17, 2014 [10 favorites]


outside of the clear "I am quoting something directly" usage,

The fact that you broke the rule you proposed while proposing it seems salient here.

I struggled with how to phrase that. I was trying to show that what was between the marks represented a direct quote so I thought spelling it out was one way, but maybe I should have put insert direct quote here.

Also, I do think the part that doesn't sit well with me is more about quoting another commenter using quotation marks, if it's not what they actually said, rather than a word or phrase for "effect". I really appreciate people engaging with this though, even if the consensus is that it's not an issue.

"I agree anotherpanacea! What a wise thing to say!"

I just read it in a tone dripping with sarcasm. {insert I'm Only Messin' symbol here}
posted by billiebee at 5:25 AM on March 17, 2014


I use Plutor's fantastic Mefiquote script for real quotes - italicized, plus name linked back to original comment. I would just say something like, "This sounds like you're saying x" for paraphrases.

As with many MeTa posts, the real answer is: don't be an asshole.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:17 AM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


also [hamburger] everyone needs a hug [end hamburger]
posted by Namlit at 6:46 AM on March 17, 2014


everyone needs a hamburger
posted by billiebee at 6:48 AM on March 17, 2014


in that sense: lunchtime
posted by Namlit at 6:52 AM on March 17, 2014


Chrysostom: "I use Plutor's fantastic Mefiquote script for real quotes - italicized, plus name linked back to original comment. I would just say something like, "This sounds like you're saying x" for paraphrases."

This script is truly fantastic. It eliminates the guesswork of whom you're quoting and replying to in a thread.

An unexpected side-benefit is that it also allows you to do searches in your activity for people's names, in case you want to know if you've ever interacted with them directly at another time. So for instance, here's what a search for my comments containing "shakespeherian" turns up.
posted by zarq at 7:51 AM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


oceanjesse wrote: "On metafilter, italics are for real quotes, and quotes are for interpretation things. It's the culture of MeFi, and I think it's well established because you see it in like all of the threads with users quotin other users. Something really egregious would be italicizing someone's quoted comment, then editing that text. But nobody really does that so far as I can think of any examples. "

I found this fascinating, because I've always interpreted both italics and quotation marked statements to be quotes on MeFi, regardless of whether I've suspected that the quoted material may be a recasting or a snarky FTFY reinterpretation of an original statement or a statement I think I might have seen earlier in the thread. That may be an artifact of the fact that people do quote other people in several different styles here and I try to parse/respect all forms, or from an education/training where the rule was established that you put the words people actually say in quotes, but your interpretation of those words are not encased in quotation marks.

It's a bit of a sliding scale, because quote marks are used regularly for brief quoted references, e.g.,:
Cookie Monster wrote of the "tasty brilliance" of Ernie's cookies, but I found them to be dense.
that aren't set off as a discrete chunk in one of the common ways on Metafilter - in blockquote, as a paragraph with attribution, a hyperlink, italicized, email-style carets, and/or other format. When quoting fragments like that, quotation marks are used as a matter of course, but when the quote is isolated and set off from one's own comment, the quotation marks are less critical in delineating between quoted material and response, and are often omitted.

I have to admit, I have an instinctual knee-jerk negative reaction to seeing people put (re)interpretations in quotation marks without an indication that the quoted material is an interpretation/paraphrase, even if I totally agree with the sentiment. It feels dishonest and troublemaking. I always try to take a minute to get over that reaction because I know that much of the usage is more ... enthusiastic than malicious, but I have yet to conquer that initial reaction.
posted by julen at 8:30 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also, I do think the part that doesn't sit well with me is more about quoting another commenter using quotation marks, if it's not what they actually said, rather than a word or phrase for "effect". I really appreciate people engaging with this though, even if the consensus is that it's not an issue.

To be clear, I do think it's an issue. It can be quite abusive, but ultimately I think the more abusive it is, the less effective it is. Putting words into someone's mouth is uncharitable; but rhetorically it's not very effective when the words aren't close to what the person was initially saying. So, if I were to attribute to billiebee the following quote: "Jeeze, anotherpanacea, I sure think you're smart," no one would think it was what you said.

But if instead I wrote something like, "It seems like you're saying, 'Metafilter is a place where people aren't very nice'," I think you might reasonably worry that someone would seize on that rewriting as an accurate summation of your concern. (I don't think it is.) So then we get into this war about interpretation, etc.

Basically, paraphrasing other people is a tricky thing, and especially when you disagree with someone fervently it's hard to do accurately or well. Using made-up "quotes" is generally going to make it worse. Still, sometimes that's the best a person can do, and sometimes it's fitting or even, as you point out, very difficult to avoid even by a careful commenter!

So I say let's be on the lookout for it. Since we'll probably fight about something, let's try to do it well and not bash strawmen. Which is, I think, in keeping with your real proposal: the alternative is to write better comments, and to support each other in doing so.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:47 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Also, I do think the part that doesn't sit well with me is more about quoting another commenter using quotation marks, if it's not what they actually said..."

and

"...or from an education/training where the rule was established that you put the words people actually say in quotes, but your interpretation of those words are not encased in quotation marks."

First of all, this is a "rule" only for more formal writing, not casual. When you write a letter or email to someone, and you "quote" something they said (or even wrote) to you, you almost certainly do not ensure that it is perfectly accurate, if that were even possible, which it's not in many situations. And MetaFilter is not formal writing. Your training about the use of quotation marks is as irrelevant to casual, everyday written language as your training about, say, proper citation style.

Casual language use, whether spoken or written, is "correct" insofar as it follows the conventions of the language community within which it exists. The MLA, your undergraduate writing instructor, or your secondary school English teacher are not authorities for ordinary language usage.

Second, even within one of the communities where quoting conventions are most vital — journalism — and where such a rule is often promulgated, this rule is regularly not followed. Here's just one example that Mark Liberman of Language Log has found (reporting on a Romney speech in 2012). He links to other posts on this topic and the comments are worth reading, too, as there is a lot of discussion of various people's journalistic experiences on this.

That isn't an argument that it's fine to not be perfectly accurate when quoting someone — Liberman clearly thinks it's not fine, and my recollection of his posts on this topic are that he would prefer exactitude well beyond an anti-deliberate misrepresentation standard.

However, with written quotations of spoken language, this is inherently problematic because spoken language is very different from written language and is "ungrammatical" by more formal written language standards, and that's not even accounting for some uncertainties due to dialectical differences in pronunciation. (If you're interested, take a look at trial testimony transcriptions for good examples of how people actually speak.) Because of this, journalists and editors routinely alter quotations of spoken language — people should be aware that the quotation marks in this context are not reliable indicators of accurate reproduction.

Obviously, with written language the practical difficulties are greatly reduced, and this is especially true with regard to quoted written language where the original is at hand, which is the case here on MeFi. Indeed, it is trivial to copy-and-paste and, given that, the onus should be on those who are inaccurate to justify their inaccuracy.

But my point above is that even within the context of more formal usage and where there are authorities who actually regulate it, this rule is not absolutely followed.

Third, back to casual written language, the simple fact is that paraphrase is common, defensible, useful, and it is often necessary to signal that a paraphrase is not the writer's own words — and quotation marks are conventionally used for this purpose. This is simply a fact of common usage, and there is no appeal to authority other than what is conventional.

Maybe you believe that you haven't seen that usage, but I suspect you're mistaken. Maybe you believe that the conventions of formal writing applies to ordinary writing. About that, I know that you're mistaken. Accommodating the reality of ordinary language use when your intuition and training insists on various "rules" is a cross that many people bear. You're not alone.

As discussed at length already, there are a few simple community norms that could arise which will solve all of the problems we've discussed:
  • Don't paraphrase in bad-faith; either with or without quotation marks.
  • When you use quotation marks and what you are repeating is easily available (especially if it's right here within the thread), then you should not paraphrase, but copy-and-paste and quote accurately. If you do alter or paraphrase in these cases, it should be for good reason, such as something being elided because it would be too lengthy otherwise (and you should indicate this with an ellipsis or the like), or because it just really needed to be paraphrased (maybe because it's one of my infamously convoluted and detailed points).
  • If you paraphrase, you should make this somehow explicit. There are numerous ways to do this; it's not so important which you choose, just that you do so.
  • Attributing an opinion to a fictional person, or a group of people, will often necessarily involve a paraphrase, and will most likely require quotation marks to clearly set it apart from your own words. In itself, that's fine. What's not so fine is that this particular rhetorical device is very often malicious, or at the very least, provocative. A fictional person is often used as a stand-in for a real person (and subtextually it's usually clear that it's someone present), and so this is really a form of putting words in someone else's mouth. That you're not doing it directly could either be politeness, or it might be (and probably is) for the purposes of plausible deniability. You shouldn't do this. I shouldn't do this. We shouldn't do this. And the same is all true for paraphrasing the opinion/speech of a group of people. It's usually quite clear that some of those people are present in the conversation, if they are. And if they're not, well, it's a bad sign when you're arguing against a fictional representation of a group of people that you've characterized in your head.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:48 AM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


MetaTalk: You shouldn't do this. I shouldn't do this. We shouldn't do this.
posted by billiebee at 10:07 AM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


what? Patrick's day binging?
posted by Namlit at 10:12 AM on March 17, 2014


No, always do Patrick's Day binging. Always. *hic*
posted by billiebee at 10:25 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


[introducing the *hic* tag]
posted by Namlit at 10:38 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


MetaTalk: You shouldn't do this. I shouldn't do this. We shouldn't do this.” — billiebee

That's so appropriate to MetaTalk, isn't it?

Plutor made his script very easy to modify for one's preferred quoatation format by defining QUOTEFORMAT right at the top of the script where it's set apart and easily found.

So replacing the default

        var QUOTEFORMAT = '<a href="%l">%n</a>: "<i>%q</i>"';

with

        var QUOTEFORMAT = '<i>%q</i>';

will result in the MeFi convention, which has neither quotation marks nor attribution.

I like the double-quotes and the attribution (with link to the comment), so I'm using this:

        var QUOTEFORMAT = '"<i>%q</i>" — <a href="%l">%n</a>';

...except that I'm using named entities for the left and right double-quotes, as well as for the emdash and non-breaking spaces.

Some people might like the MeFi convention but with an unobtrusive link to the quoted comment:

        var QUOTEFORMAT = '<i>%q</i><a href="%l">&uarr;</a>';

...which results in this:

        MetaTalk: You shouldn't do this. I shouldn't do this. We shouldn't do this. ↑

For those who haven't seen it in action, the script appends quote to the end of the attribution line, like so:

        posted by billiebee at 12:07 PM on March 17 [quote]

...and you just use it like you would the three buttons on the edit window — that is, select what you want to quote with your cursor, press that [quote] link, and what you want to quote will appear in the edit text area with the formatting and stuff. He defines that link text at the top of the script (BUTTONTEXT), right there in the same place as the format, so you could change it to something else if you want.

If you're using Chrome, but not on a smartphone, then you can download the script (the install button won't work but it will download it), open the extensions page with the "≡ → Tools → Extensions" menu, and then just drag and drop the downloaded script file onto that page. It will ask if you really want to instal it, being as it's not being installed from the Chrome storefront. But if you want to alter the format from Plutor's default, you'll need to first edit the file as described above.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:33 AM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


Also, because this makes me happy, if you're using a system with one of the newer fonts that include emoji, and you're using it as your "byline font" that's set in your MeFi preferences, then you can change that BUTTONTEXT to unicode U+1F4AC, 💬, which is the "Speech Balloon". You'll have to look up the character entity if you don't use the literal, because MeFi filters out numbered entities (my fault, actually, many years ago), so I can't even mention it here, let alone use it†. But it will work in the mefiquote script because that all happens on your browser and doesn't involve MetaFilter's server in any way.

It looks much better than "quote" and I now have a warm feeling inside.

† If this doesn't make sense to you, what I mean is that not only can I not actually type in the numeric character entity in the text entry box and have it be posted to MeFi's database and show up in your browser as the speech balloon emoji, I can't even use an entity for the ampersand in the code, as we do when we want to mention a named entity in a comment, as the filter looks for any combination of the ampersand and the hashmark/octothorpe/numbersign/poundsign even via an intermediate entity. And you can't avoid a literal hashmark because it isn't a named entity because of that slash thing I just did, being as people all over call it by different things. Obviously you can't use a numeric entity for the hashmark, as filtering out numeric entities is what the filter does in the first place.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:28 PM on March 17, 2014


Exact quoting formats are less interesting than the less-precise but more-important issue of simply not misrepresenting people, whether intentionally or unintentionally, whether through literal quotes or through paraphrase.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:01 PM on March 17, 2014 [6 favorites]


Inspired by this... would it be better, perhaps, if all paraphrases were in doge?
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:56 PM on March 17, 2014


SUCH PARAPHRASE blah blah blah WOW

I could get on board with that.
posted by billiebee at 5:07 PM on March 17, 2014 [3 favorites]


would it be better, perhaps, if all paraphrases were in doge?

No, I firmly believe that all paraphrases should use exact quotes from Monty Python. For instance, I'd paraphrase Ivan's latest comments this way:

"If I were to go around claiming I was emperor just because some moistened bint lunged a scimitar at me, they'd put me away!"

The connections are obvious, really, but there's also the cautionary note that you should check the original to be sure of accuracy and fairness.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:12 AM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Hmm, encouraging more Python bores? Seems retrogressive.

/splitter
posted by Wolof at 6:23 AM on March 18, 2014


That's fair. Say, then, that we will also accept Key and Peele quotes, but only if you can do it without sounding racist. (Which, I think, is likely to be rare.)
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:30 AM on March 18, 2014


What have Key and Peele ever done for us?
posted by Wolof at 6:41 AM on March 18, 2014


They've brought peas! (Or was it beans?)
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:37 AM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've seen this come up enough times recently that I actually caught myself doing it and replaced it with a direct quote, not necessarily because my paraphrase was uncharitable, just lazy in that case. Most of the time I think we can divine it in context, especially when people use the word "like," as in "he's like 'blah blah blah' and I'm like 'blah.'" I definitely think it's whiny and touchy when people say "I never said that" and then blame the use of the punctuation marks when it's just classic mischaracterization that takes many forms, all of which should be easy to identify when you look dispassionately at two or more interacting parties and don't have a gnarling dog in the fight.
posted by lordaych at 9:11 PM on March 18, 2014


A lot of times the quote-paraphrase, as someone hinted at above and I'm too lazy to find them and quote it, a condensed, logical, taken-to-its-conclusion summary of what somebody said without preparing and thinking through. Sometimes it's helpful to do that to somebody, but usually it falls outside of the quotation technique. Instead, it's usually more like "so you're saying." I think "so you're saying" or "what I'm hearing" is pretty good, but I grew up on IRC back in '93 mothafuckazzz and I LOVE SAYING SHIT IN ALL CAPS TO EXAGGERATE A PARAPHRASE LOL and that shit goes back, so ALL YA'LL TUMBLR KIDDIEZ AIN'T SHIT WITH YOUR APPROPRIATION OF MAH SUBCULTURE
posted by lordaych at 9:17 PM on March 18, 2014


LOL was mortifying to us back then though, I failed by including a LOL. Heh. Heh. Always heh. LOL and ROFL were like things our parents might say. <G>
posted by lordaych at 9:19 PM on March 18, 2014


Also, Sys Rq, I salute your user name and the creation of HAMBURGER. That thread was the bee's knees, and has cemented your legacy. I feel like you've been here forever, long before 2008. Your username should get set to 93 in honor of the ordinal values of HAMBURGER'S many letters being added up into a thing that equals 93 and you deserve that, NO HAMBURGER
posted by lordaych at 9:37 PM on March 18, 2014


That sounds sarcastic. I'm so confused.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:08 AM on March 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


That's fair. Say, then, that we will also accept Key and Peele quotes

New plan - quotes are verbatim, but a paraphrase is then added in the style of Luther, President Obama's anger translator.

"Thanks, rosf - that's an interesting suggestion."

(That is the worst damn idea ever.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:38 AM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


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