Being “Punctual”

Because my goal in life is to “educate” the masses about all the unimportant things that I find tedious, today we will “discuss” something very “important” that I think we all need to “address.”

The “overuse” of quotation marks.

I could go into my abhorrence of exclamation points, but we’ll save “that” for another time!

While this is obviously a written medium and you’re reading what I write, the overuse of quotation marks is not limited to the “written” word. Oh no, the overuse of “air quotes” is also running rampant.


It’s a “laser.”

If you’re not familiar with “air quotes,” I have included the Wikipedia definition below:

“Air quotes, also called finger quotes, are virtual quotation marks formed in the air with one’s fingers when speaking. This is typically done with hands held shoulder-width apart and at the eye level of the speaker, with the index and middle fingers on each hand flexing at the beginning and end of the phrase being quoted.The air-quoted phrase is generally very short—a few words at most—in common usage, though sometimes much longer phrases may be used for comedic effect.”

What they don’t say is that the use of air quotes is generally done in a “sarcastic” manner, a way to “attempt” grammatical justification of a jab.

“So, I hear that you’re a writer” has a  much different tone than, “So, I hear that you’re a ‘writer.’”

The first statement has a fairly neutral tone, at least until I add in a few dashes of skepticism and judgment that probably weren’t intended but that I implied. However, the second one seems to imply that being a “writer” is a “dubious” distinction. 

Side note: That may very well be the case, but I’m not picking on writers. Feel free to sub in “singer,” “actress” or any other profession that I have no talent for doing and that would require the use of sarcastic and judgmental air quotes.

Anyway, the proliferation of air quotes and quotation marks in general got me “thinking,” and I tweeted that my new goal in life (after educating the masses about all the unimportant things that I find tedious and eating a meal without spilling on myself) is to find a way to have “air parentheses” and “other” forms of punctuation catch on the way “air quotes” have.

Why do quotes get all the love?

  • It’s hard to describe “air parentheses,” but just imagine that every time you wanted to set off a list or include an aside (as I am often prone to doing,) you made big curving arcs with your arms.
  • In case your tone makes, “You’re pregnant” indistinguishable from “You’re pregnant?” you could take one arm and act out the curvy part of a question mark like in a sassy “talk to the hand”-type gesture, accenting it with a punch at the bottom.
  • Amy suggested that “air ellipses” could be like repeated poking of the air with index fingers on either side and Jess suggested using “air commas” to emphasize your need to pause between phrases and clauses.  For this one, I’m envisioning a parade/beauty queen scooping-type wave.
  • “Air colons” would be acted out like a boxer’s one-two punch, a quick jab-jab to let people know you’re starting a list or an explanation that is preceded by a clause that can stand by itself.
  • We wouldn’t have to worry about the “air semicolon,” as no one knows how to use those anyway.

So even though most of you are only subject to “reading” my words and punctuation—and I can promise that exclamation points will always be used minimally!—if you see me in person, feel free to implement “air punctuation.”

Because while I find the overuse of “air quotes” rather tedious, I’m totally looking forward to someone trying to implement the “air ampersand.”


Do you have any punctuation pet peeves?

What punctuation mark do you think should get “aired” out and how would it be done?

34 responses to “Being “Punctual”

  1. Listen, smarty pants, I’m part robot and thus years ahead of you mortals.

    My hybrid buddies and I have been rockin’ air gullimets for years. When that catcehs on, the terrorists will be defeated, Kardashians will be extinct, and The Braves will beat the Tigers in the world series.

    I’m air gullimeting you right now.

  2. or air guillemeting

  3. If you could just teach people the proper use of the apostrophe, I’d be happy.

  4. I’m pretty sure I’m one of the exclamation point offenders! sorry, couldn’t resist.
    I get bugged by overuse of commas even though I don’t fully know when they are to be used. I always thought if you paused while reading a sentence that’s where you need a comma.
    I now have my own copy of Grammar Girl’s Quick & Dirty Tips so hopefully I’ll be less offensive.

  5. I am an exclamation point offender. It’s semi-embarrassing because I’m an English teacher. You’d think I would know better. I think I just get a little too excited reading blogs while drinking my morning coffee.

    • I admit I’m prone to overusing the exclamation point at times, too. However, I read so much “professional” copy that is absolutely molested by use of the exclamation point that I think I’m a bit bitter 😉

  6. I am a fan of the interrobang (?!) when appropriate. I suggest one spin in a circle and than jump up and land with a good, loud thump.

    But, like others, I’d just be happy if people would learn apostrophes. As a teacher at the college level, it hurts me when people over 18 don’t understand basic grammar.

    I may make this post required reading. You know, so they understand just how much and how often they are stabbing me in the eye with their rusty forks. 😉

  7. I’d love to see anyone use the air ampersand. Seems like it could make for a good dance move.

    I overuse !!!s. Even at work. I associate it with being friendly. Most of my readers probably think I’m an airhead because of it.

    I am okay with this.

  8. This really needs to start happening immediately. I think I can get the air comma to catch on by December. Look for it in a town near you!

  9. i would like to know, what does it mean when someone says “quote-unquote” when using air quotes?

  10. And the movement to describe “air colons” would be great for the abs too…all that jab-jab, we could kicking Jillian Michaels’s “fit” ass in no time…sorry, she irritates me.
    Have to say, I’m loving your ideas. Now how do we begin a national movement to implement them?

  11. I hate periods.

    Too bloody.

  12. I am a freak with ellipses. I use them too often … and people point it out to me … all of the time.

    I like them though … and I can’t imagine life without them … maybe because they are a BAD habit? (Sandra uses them too!!)

  13. I’m partial to air parentheses to emphasize my sarcasm. I am also partial to the finger birdies and use them often especially when someone cuts me off in traffic.

  14. i love this! have you seen the episode of Friends where joey’s trying to understand air quotes? This is the scene. Don’t worry, it’s short, and totally worth your time.

  15. I make italics my bitch, they are like my “air quotes” and I do love exclamation points!!!!! I don’t like ALLCAPS…it hurts my eyes and I can here it…LOL.
    This made me giggle and like u even more !

  16. I’ll have to agree with Kir. ALLCAPS are not my friend. Jimmy Fallon joked the other night that ALLCAPS is like the Gilbert Gottfried of writing, and now every time I see ALLCAPS I hear Gilbert. God bless me. Air quotes are annoying…when people overuse them or worse misuse them. In fact quotation marks in general when misused are annoying. I’m an exclamation point offender in the worst way, but usually it’s limited to my writing in comments. For some reason, (I like to call this the Commenting Effect) I lose all ability to write coherent sentences when commenting on other people’s blogs. It’s a sad thing indeed.

    THIS WAS A GREAT POST, by the way!!!!!!!!!!!

  17. I like when people use air quotes. It’s a quick way for me to know that they’re an asshole.

  18. I’ve tried doing the air parenthesis…but it seems every time I use them I’m suddenly joined by an indian, a cowboy, and a cop while YMCA blares from some invisible speakers.

  19. I hate semi colons and have no idea how to use them, I say we just get rid of them altogether.

  20. aaaaaaaah. i was just gonna post the air quote video clip from friends!!!! you clearly, have awesome commenters.

  21. Would someone please save us from the haphazard use of the apostrophe?!

  22. Stopping by for WOE. Thanks for the “chuckle” this morning.

  23. What a playful post for punctuation! Love it. How about air punctuation for an exclamation mark? Oh, wait, I think it already exists – the middle finger! 🙂

  24. This reminded me of Victor Borge’s Phonetic Punctuation. Very funny. And I’m avoiding using exclamation points in this comment, despite my love for them.

    There’s a blog called the “Blog” of “Unnecessary” “Quotations.” It’s “hilarious.”

    • Is there really? I’m totally going to have to go check that out. And I do enjoy and overuse exclamation points myself at times. It’s just those emails where everything has five of them that drives me nuts!!! Especially in a professional capacity!!!

  25. I’m thinking air ellipses should be akin to the 2 snaps and a twist from In Living Color’s movie review duo.

  26. Pingback: Sunday Love « Lessons From Teachers and Twits

  27. So I’m not the only “grammarian” out there–Yay!

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