A Facebook friend recently shared a link to this story about the supervisor at a cotton gin being recorded in an attempt to enforce some sort of Jim Crow policy in his workplace. He is heard telling black employees that certain items like the water fountain and microwave are "whites only" including the following cheerful exchange:

“Put your sign on the wall then, because I am feeling to drink it,” said Harris. “What would they do when they catch me drinking your water?”

“That`s when we hang you,” said the supervisor.

Once I recovered from the shock that a racist white man was employed in the cotton ginning industry, I noticed something odd about the headline on the original local news story:


Why is "racist" in quotes? There appears to be no lack of clarity that the statements are the actual dictionary definition of racism, so the headline writer appears to be using the quotes unnecessarily. The alternative is that the quotes represent some sort of let's-hear-both-sides claim that the comments are merely alleged to be racist, which is just stupid. Then again, I find unnecessary quotes hilarious so perhaps I'm not exactly unbiased in evaluating their motives.

There is a wonderful blog devoted to Unnecessary Quotes, featuring hundreds of examples such as a sign inviting customers to ring a bell to receive "meat service":


Maybe it's just me, but I find this endlessly entertaining. "Endlessly."

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41 Responses to “NPF: QUITE "ENTERTAINING"”

  1. Middle Seaman Says:

    How to offend many by trying not to offend anyone. Mainstream media has become a dozen arms creature of "on the other hand." Or may be on the other hands. What will they do with Martians who, as everyone knows, have only one hand. Have to stop here but on the other hand.

  2. Graham Says:

    I thinks it is mostly misuse and ignorance, like the use by young girls of the word "literally" to spice up their every utterance.

  3. Talisker Says:

    The "racist" example may be legal ass-covering. If the story relates to active legal proceedings (which it probably does), then saying "supervisor X is racist" would theoretically expose the newspaper to contempt of court charges. However they are free to say "employee Y alleges that supervisor X is racist".

    As for explaining "meat service", I got nothin'.

  4. democommie Says:

    "Why is "racist" in quotes?"

    cuz, "joornalizm"?

    According to the story the EEOC and the company are "mediating". WTF does that even mean? If the guy actually said/did that vile shit his continuing as an employee, never mind a supervisor, would make the employer, um, racist.

  5. democommie Says:

    "Meat service bell". Ha, Ha, funny! I rang the bell, a huge fucking guy came out with a 17" scimitar bladed knife in his bloody hand…

  6. c u n d gulag Says:



    A "racist" at a "cotton gin!"

  7. c u n d gulag Says:

    "Meat Service" would be a great name for your bordello!

  8. Pat Says:

    I… almost agree. Or rather, I would agree but for this one small inconvenient thing: We're not talking about written English; we're talking about newspaper journalism.

    Let me put it to you this way, if I were a reporter and you were my editor, and if I handed in a story describing the trial of a man on trial for homicide, would you insert the quotation marks and word "alleged" that I had forgotten surrounding the word "murderer," which, after all, is a bona fide quotation from the indictment?

    If you need a hint, imagine that I, as your lawyer, have just reminded you that accusing someone of a felony for which he has not yet been convicted is the dictionary definition of libel, and that our liability insurance policy doesn't cover lowly editors.

    Now truth is a defense, of course. No one needs to be this cautious before calling OJ Simpson a murderer. (He'd actually be precluded for suing for libel under collateral estoppel, but I"m driving more at the fact that we all know we could prove the truth of our statement, if needed.) But for a lesser known figure, would you really want to risk it? If I told you to print that Mel Zetz violated the Civil Rights Act, would you really not want the spare comfort of knowing that, should you hit the few keystrokes I told you to, it would mean you just couldn't be sued? (I mean, I'm telling you Mel Zetz did it. But how much do you actually know about Mel Zetz, anyway?)

    It's a habit borne of practice. So's the Oxford Comma. (So, for that matter, is the forbearance of the Oxford Comma. And so's doing fifty situps upon waking every single day, although it's not like I'd know.) While it makes for writing that would be amusing in a certain way were we to imagine it's actual written English—we are, of course, to understand, that it's absolutely not actual written English. It's something very close to—but not the same.

  9. TAGinMO Says:

    Shorter Talisker: "I don't know what contempt of court is."

  10. Talisker Says:

    @Pat: Yes, although an indictment is not going to describe the defendant as a "murderer". Innocent until proven guilty, and all that.

    @TAG: My bad, I was thinking of how contempt of court operates in British and similar jurisdictions:

    But I think the concerns Pat raises about libel are still valid.

  11. democommie Says:

    "While it makes for writing that would be amusing in a certain way were we to imagine it's actual written English—we are, of course, to understand, that it's absolutely not actual written English. It's something very close to—but not the same."

    So, the practice of using the quotation marks around a word is better than using the word, "alleged", or "purported" or "accused"?

    Sloppiness in their writing is something I fully expect from professionals these days; it's far too common to NOT be expected. That hardly means it is permissible or acceptable on the part of the writer. If I pick up a local paper or the one from the nearest large city, Syracuse, NY I find it full of not just amateurish journalism but quite bad usage and syntax–this is a feature, not a bug, of current journalistic education, apparently.

    FWIW, I don't believe OJ Simpson was ever convicted of murder, not that I think he did not commit two of them.

  12. Sarah Says:

    It's interesting that you should bring this up. There has been a trend among right-wingers to try to paint liberals and progressives as anti-diversity and introduce a false dichotomy between fighting racism and misogyny being as bad as or worse than the original racism and misogyny; N.K. Jemisin and Andrew Ti have both noted this on their blogs. There's also been a few instances of repercussions for people who have made claims of racist behavior (employees getting reprimands and such, although I have not heard of anybody getting fired for it). Note what happened during the recent shootings in California by Elliott Rodger; there was quite a bit of chatter online about the "poor guy" being undateable at age 22 because women weren't interested in him. (And what apparently happened there was that he never actually attempted to talk to any women, and seemed to think that if he just went around in public with his BMW and other trappings of wealth, that women should just throw themselves at him.)

  13. geoff Says:

    Ed, you are "correct". I have lived in Memphis for a long time and the kid and I are constantly amazed by the incorrect use of quotes here. Not to mention the casual racism. (And she's a native!)

  14. Dan E Says:

    My dad uses unnecessary quotes all the time. He is very old fashioned and doesn't use a computer. Instead, he writes very long letters and sends them to us and the use of quotation marks is both stunning and hilarious. He also is a big gardener and sends us jars of things he's made. My favorite is a jar of pickles he sent. The top of the jar has a label on it that says "Hot" pickles. WTF kind of pickles would those be?

  15. peggy Says:

    My favorite unnecessary quotes are the ones on signs declaring that "line jumping is "not" a sport here at Paramount Kinds Island."

    Preteen NE find that hilarious and annoyed all of her friends by pointing it out every. Single. Time.

    Adult me hasn't been back to kings Island, but I'm sure the behavior would be repeated. :)

  16. Anonymouse Says:

    Back in the 1980s, a cousin who was going through beautician school used to supply my family with loads of shampoo and conditioner to try. I have no idea where these things were made (the branding was nothing for sale in stores at that time), but the labels on them were barely English and overdid the quotations. Using their brand of shampoo would make your hair "shine" (what would it really do?) and you would look like a "star" (a what?), for example.

  17. Kate Says:

    The greatest superfluous quotation marks I've ever seen was at the Salvation Army when I was in high school: 'If you take something, "you put" it back.'

  18. mothra Says:

    Clearly that sign in the supermarket meat section is advertising something other than slicing up some baby back ribs. It's a little side racket. Get your meat serviced AND buy a steak. Everybody happy.

    My particular pet peeve is the poorly-used apostrophe that populates signs everywhere, i.e. "Taco's 2 for $1.50." Drives me 'round the bend, it does. If you read a news story about a woman who starts screaming about apostrophe abuse and stabbing at an advertisement outside some establishment, that will be me.

  19. Skipper Says:

    In the newspaper example, what the editor was most likely trying to achieve was a shorthand way of saying that someone else accused the douchebag of racism — not the newspaper.

    In most of the examples on the website, people were (incorrectly) using quotation marks for emphasis. They're not far different from people who use all caps for emphasis.

  20. Robert Says:

    Lynne Truss mentions superfluous quotation marks (as well as apostrophes) in her entertaining book "Eats, Shoots and Leaves". Perfect for the inner stickler in your life, who may, in fact, be you.

  21. Major Kong Says:


    I work out of Memphis. It seems to me to be a strange place.

    My impression is:

    The whites hate the blacks, the blacks hate the whites, and the rednecks hate everybody.

    And nobody knows how to drive.

  22. bad Jim Says:

    As someone who has used various mark-up conventions, it seems obvious that some gratuitous quotes are merely meant for emphasis. We wouldn't take exception to «HOT pickles» or 'line jumping is *not* a sport' because we're comfortable with those markers, but they're _not_ that much different.

  23. Anonymouse Says:

    @mothra; I'm right there with you about the misuse of apostrophes. Part of my job as a webmaster includes hosting content contributed by the college-aged (and slightly older) interns, and I find myself having to waste my time editing stuff that a second-grader could get right. These folks are completely oblivious to how plurals and apostrophe's work, and it's of course the web hoster's fault if the site looks illiterate. For example, I'm forever correcting things like, "The companies technology" (the company's technology) "includes state of the art" (state-of-the-art) "computer's and computer supply's" (computers and computer supplies).

  24. c u n d gulag Says:

    I HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATE f'in apostrophes (apostrophe's?!?!?!?!?!)!!!!!

    They are the bane of my existence!

    I've read and studied EVERY F*CKING book on grammar, and I STILL DON'T GET THEM!!!
    It's a running joke on Mahablog.

    Maybe it's (is THAT correct?) because English is my 4th language?
    I grew-up speaking Russian, then Ukrainian, and then German.

    When I went to Kindergarten, back in '63, when my Mom dropped me off, being the social animal I once was, I tried to talk to the other kids.
    "Hoo boy, " I thought to myself in Russian, after a minute – "None of these other kids know how to talk!"

    And then, after about 2 minutes, I found out who the one with the problem REALLY WAS!

    Well, being a kid, I picked-up the language pretty quickly.
    And the grammar.
    BUT NOT THE FUCKIN' apostrophes (apostraphe's?!?!?!?!?!)

  25. infinitefreetime Says:

    *Silently judges Anonymouse's proofreading skills*

    Here is the solution to apostrophe troubles:

    Never use them.


    You will make fewer mistakes, and the mistakes you DO make will be massively less annoying to people who understand how to use apostrophes than putting them where they don't belong.

    The letter S is not scary, and it does not need an early warning system.

    The end.

  26. Anonymouse Says:

    @gulag: English isn't my first language, either. We spoke Italian at home, I started preschool in Japan in the neighborhood school, then moved to Spain, then Hawaii, where the classes were taught in pidgin, which was the language my classmates spoke. I was almost through high school before I had to really deal with English. Then i went on to college, where I majored in computer science and minored in Linguistics (Russian and French).

    @InfiniteFreeTime, LOL about the apostrophe being used as an early warning system that an 's' is approaching. I think you're onto something. Unless of course the word is SUPPOSED to have an apostrophe–in that case, they just make it a plural (companies, families, technologies).

  27. Graham Says:

    Well I must say. With that attitude to apostrophes, Mr Gulag, I am surprised you are not in a gulag already.

  28. Desargues Says:

    Unnecessary quotes are hysterical. They crack me up every time. (Being a relative newcomer to this country helps a lot with that. No one else uses them outside America)

  29. democommie Says:

    "I'm forever correcting things like, "The companies technology" (the company's technology) "includes state of the art" (state-of-the-art) "computer's and computer supply's" (computers and computer supplies).:

    ELITIST! {;>)

    I always liked "Apstrophe (')", especially "Yellow Snow" and "Cosmik Debris".

  30. bago Says:

    c u n d gulag, I have a poster you can buy that will greatly assist you and your punctuation problem.

    I love going to rural restaurants and counting the errors in the menu. This one near Puyallup was amazing, it managed to get every one wrong. Apostrophes on EVERY plural, except the One possessive that needed it.

    Chefs salad with onion's , egg's, olive's … The entire menu.

  31. Anonymouse Says:

    @Bago; good to see my company's interns are finding work after they graduate and move on! Apparently they go write menus for rural restaurants!

  32. Ursula Says:

    I believe that "hot" pickles are "spicy" pickles. It may be that the recipe used called the pickles "hot", so he didn't use the word "spicy", I don't know. I do know that my mother has also sent me jars of food with quotation marks around the adjective in the food identifier.

  33. Khaled Says:

    "I always liked "Apstrophe (')", especially "Yellow Snow" and "Cosmik Debris"."
    I like "Yellow Snow" on YCDTOSA Vol 1.
    And who doesn't like Peaches En Regalia?

  34. Ursula Says:

    Gulag: posessive nouns always use an apostrophe, except for its. That is because it's is a contraction of it is. I only comitted that to memory by having it explained to me in that way. Hope that helps?

    bad Jim makes a good point that I had not considered. However, I contend there should be a limit to the characters we use to indicate emphasis. We don't surround words with semi-colons, for instance, and I never learned that quotation marks were for emphasis. Idk, maybe they teach that in certain places, but I don't know where.

  35. Anonymouse Says:

    @Ursula: I learned the correct use of its this way: His/Hers/Its. None of them have apostrophes. I guess that wouldn't work for people who write hi's, her's and it's.

  36. Davis X. Machina Says:

    I learned the correct use of its this way: His/Hers/Its. None of them have apostrophes. I guess that wouldn't work for people who write hi's, her's and it's.

    Precisely. They're genitive forms of a personal pronoun. They're not built — not declined — they just are. Same thing for 'their'. They couldn't take an apostrophe + s. They can't be made more possessive than they already are.

  37. el mago Says:

    It's a crying shame that so many people get worked up about its and bits that have shit to do with the rampant bullshit going on in the world, but yeah, dweeb on.

  38. democommie Says:

    Getting back to the OP for a moment.

    He's been canned.

  39. geoff Says:

    @Major Kong I guess that's you flying over my house at 5AM. "Thanks" Fed Ex ; )

  40. Neal Deesit Says:

    Ursula at 12:45 pm: "Gulag: posessive [sic] nouns always use an apostrophe, except for its. That is because it's is a contraction of it is." I use quotation marks here to indicate that I am quoting Ursula verbatim. I insert "[sic]" to indicate the the preceding word appears in that precise form in her original sentence.

    Ursula failed to use quotation marks correctly for another of their purposes: to indicate that a written word is being mentioned, not being used. This pair shows the difference: English is a language. "English" has six letters.

    In Ursula's case, her sentences should be written as follows:

    Gulag: possessive nouns always use an apostrophe, except for "its." That is because "it's" is a contraction of "it is."

    Without the quotation marks, these sentences are ungrammatical.

    Anonymouse at 6:40 am: "These folks are completely oblivious to how plurals and apostrophe's work…"

    Thank God that "these folks" have you to guide them!

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