Saturday, October 3, 2015

Rant time

I decided it would be nice if my last post on Google Drive was published rant-free.  It might be the first time I've ever mentioned Google in a post without an accompanying rant.  Nah, once upon a time I was pretty enamored with them.  I still am, mostly.

And this rant isn't even about Google, it's about smart quotes.

Smart quotes are the default in Google Docs.  They convert your "dumb" quotes into "smart" ones.  You can turn them off.  When writing, I don't like smart quotes.  They cause problems when going from one format to another (like when pasting text into an email), and they're completely redundant.  I have never, ever, ever, ever, ever seen a single use of quotation marks in which it was not obvious to me whether a particular mark was opening or closing a quotation.

Redundancy is good.  Most of grammar is about redundancy.  All the really important bits, anyway.  Tenses, plural forms, if you know something is incorrect when seeing it in print, then that's the same as saying the broken rule is redundant---or else how could you know how it was wrong?  But humans have comprehension and attention problems, so we really want a lot of redundancy into our language.  (Another example of good redundancy:  the comedic pause, which gives everybody a chance to catch up and be ready for the punchline.  And, if it's a good setup, it builds anticipation too.  The pause isn't needed in order to send the information of the joke, it merely enhances its reception).

However, I don't think smart quotes' redundancy actually helps anything.  If there ever were a strange custom case, like if you wanted to break the mold and do nested quotes, smart quotes are largely automatic in most software, so they still would hinder instead of helping you.

While looking for an argument for smart quotes, I found this web site, Smart Quotes For Smart People, with the goal of telling you that you should be using smart quotes.  They also link to tools which can help people use them more easily.  It's a cool site and they're not being dicks about their grammatical fashion like some people.

We can pretend in typography (and all design) that there's an objective right and wrong, but there are a lot of things that are simply a matter of taste.  There's a lot of deliberate misinformation out there to help "experts" pretend like subjective things are objective, or to pretend like the true purpose of a consensus (even a fabricated one) is to bully people into doing things a particular way.  Smart Quotes for Smart People aren't doing any of that.  But they also don't give you any reason (that I saw) as to why you should use smart quotes, besides simply saying that you should.  They do have pictures of smart quotes and dumb quotes side by side, around phrases.  Perhaps they think the aesthetic superiority of their position will be universally self-evident and not require an explanation?  Well guess what?  I admit it, the smart quotes do look better.

In fact, there's a tool I use in epub creation that changes three hypens (---) into an em-dash (—).  I use that a lot.  That same function also turns dumb quotes into smart ones.  I can't turn it off, it does them both at the same time.  I used to resent that.  As of this moment, I just became cool with it.

So rant nullified.  I still don't think they're necessary 90% of the time.  I'm not going to do crazy shortcuts to generate them, I'll let my publishing pipeline handle that.  But when fixing text into a permanent, public-facing design or document, yeah, I'll go with smart quotes.

Til then,


1 comment:

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