70 Comments

  1. I’ve never seen triple quotation marks. But American editions of British novels usually have the American convention of starting with double quotes, then single, then double again and so on.

    Was the triple- and quadruple- quote thing common? I wonder how that would work out with the typical 19th-century convention of having a frame tale within a frame tale. For instance, in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, the whole book is a series of letters from Captain Walton to his sister. Captain Walton picks up Victor Frankenstein and quotes his tale. Frankenstein talks about his conversation with the “Creature”, quoting him. The Creature quotes verbatim conversations he witnessed while hiding in the back room of the peasants’ cottage. That’s four quote marks right there.

  2. I was a little surprised yesterday to hear Wuthering Heights called an epistolary novel. Though there are indeed multiple levels of narration that are sort of nested and quotational.

  3. Thanks, Kirby. I got about half way through the wiki on Dash before my eyes glazed over. I suppose those kinds of distinctions are important for whatever reasons, but holy shamoley , that’s a lot of effort and thinking for such an inconsequential thing.

  4. guero: of the three, the hyphen is the shortest and the one on your typewriter or computer keyboard; the em-dash is the longest; the en-dash is in-between (so it should appeal to Goldilocks).

  5. Mark in Boston: I’m pretty sure it (the triple quotation mark) was just one publisher trying to cope with an unusual situation that wasn’t covered in his style guide.

  6. @ guero – All those symbols were invented by printers and typographers centuries ago, back when they all had to be fashioned into little blocks of lead. There is an incredibly arcane set of rules and customs surrounding typesetting. I had an English teacher in high school who even made us learn some of the standard proofreader’s markup symbols (utterly useless these days). This teacher happened to be the advisor for the school newspaper, which at the time was composed and printed in the facilities of one of the local newspapers. We did layout using wax and rollers to assemble the columns into pages, which were then photographed for offset printing. It sounds primitive now, but at the time it was “state of the art”.

  7. Proofreading markup is by no means useless today, at least if the people you’re working with understand it. For example, if you are using your tablet to mark up someone’s PDF file it is an easy and unambiguous way to go.

  8. @ DiB – I will concede that many of the standard marks may still be relevant, but the list we had back then contained a large number of entries related to errors that could only occur with physical pieces of lead type; those sort of errors just can’t be produced with any kind of wordprocessing software.

  9. Dave, when you say “if you are using your tablet to mark up someone’s PDF file” do you mean something like a drawing tablet? If so, and it is like hand-marking with a pen, then I think this answers Kilby’s objections, at least for common operations like “delete letter and close up” or “kill whole word and replace with” or “indent 2 ems”.

  10. Yeah, in particular the kind of laptop that’s also a tablet and has a pen, but you can also do it with an ipad.

    As for markup that’s specific to hot lead, I don’t think I’ve ever even heard of any such 🙂

  11. Well, I suppose Frankenstein could be called an epistolary novel, because it’s a couple of long letters from Captain Walton to his sister. But it’s not your normal epistolary novel, letters written a few days apart as the action unfolds.

    “My dear mother, I am hiding in the closet as the fiend is searching for me throughout the house. Oh, I only hope he does not hear the scratching of my pen or see the light of my candle peeking under the door. If he does, all is lost. I hope you got my previous letter which I threw out the bedroom window in hopes that someone would pick it up and mail it. Tell me right away if you don’t get this one.”

    A problem with epistolary novels is dealing with the action and keeping the suspense up toward the end when things start happening fast.

    “My dearest mother, I apologize that this is hard to read but it is difficult to write when riding a galloping horse. Oh, will I arrive in Chester in time to prevent a tragedy? I see a mailbox up ahead so I will close here and post this.”

  12. I actually enjoyed reading Clarissa (in an only moderately abridged version). Among the noted critical responses was a fun piece calculating how fast the people could be writing, how long at a minimum the production of these letters and documents would take, and then how little time was left to squeeze in the narrated events.

  13. And indeed even by 1741 Fielding was mocking the epistolary method with Shamela (based off Clarissa’s shorter and lighter predecessor, Pamela).

  14. A female friend of mine in grad school back in the late 1960s had to read CLARISSA. She told me it was so turgid that she went into automatic pilot mode and had actually read twenty or so pages past the rape scene before her brain snapped to and said “Uh, wait, something happened back there…?”

    I found slogging through PAMELA hard enough, but then discovering SHAMELA made my ordeal almost worth it in retrospect.

  15. And then after Shamela Fielding wrote The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and of his Friend Mr. Abraham Andrews starring Pamela’s brother Joseph.

  16. I just happened across a triple embed quote in the book I’m reading; it’s in the British style (even though my edition was printed in the US — I’m so glad they seem to have stopped “translating” British authors for the US!), so there is a lengthy quoted passage, in which each paragraph starts with a single quote, but doesn’t close this single quote until the end of the (pages long) passage; within the passage, anyone quoted is enclosed in double quotes; and so, inevitably, in such a long passage, someone quotes something, and this is handled by reverting to single quotes within the double quotes.
    So it would seem the accepted style as of 1997 for the UK was single quotes for a quotation, double quotes for a quote within a quote, then back to single quotes for a quote within a quote within a quote. I’d assume it would just carry on alternatingly for however deep the quoting necessitated….

  17. @ Dave – Re: “lead” – The examples I was thinking of were more for the archaic (lost) art of “cold” lead printing (using separate letters), rather than for “hot” lead (as with Linotype). The list we had in school was longer, but my 1982/1991 edition of the American Heritage Dictionary still has an abbreviated (half page) list of “proofreader’s marks”, in which there are a few that could hardly (if ever) apply to word-processed text: “turn right side up” (for an inverted letter), “move up” and “move down” (for incorrect “leading“), and “broken type” (for a defective slug). The age of the list is shown in part in that it uses the word “virgule” for “slash”.

    P.S. @ larK – The alternating quote marks for “levels” within a quote is fairly standard: I know that I learned about them in high school English. It alternates the same way no matter whether the first level is enclosed in “quotes” (US) or ‘apostrophes’ (British). Similarly, retaining a repeated quote mark for the beginning of each new paragraph is (or was) “standard”, but it’s been so long since I have seen an example of it that I’m not sure whether it is still used that often.

  18. When I was in journalism class/newspaper staff in the early 70s, we went on a field trip to The Sporting News, then located in St. Louis. At the time, they were in the process of switching from linotype to offset printing, so we go to see both. Our paper was printed via offset.

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