Special Characters

Q. Can you tell me the CMOS preferred style for printed quotation marks: typographer’s marks or the default straight-line marks?

A. Typographer’s marks are superior, though they are not always easy to implement. The unidirectional straight-up-and-down marks signal a technological limitation of one or another sort. Most typewriter manufacturers chose to include only one key for quotation marks and apostrophes, and most keyboard makers followed suit. The result has been that most people depend on software to generate the proper mark, and software isn’t foolproof (despite what one term for typographer’s quotation marks, “smart quotes,” might imply). If you want, for example, an apostrophe rather than an opening single quotation mark at the beginning of a string (e.g., the apostrophe before the n in “rock ’n’ roll”), you must tell the computer that that’s what you want. Word processors usually have a built-in keystroke combination that results in an apostrophe (’) regardless of the position of the cursor relative to other text. In the 1980s and early ’90s, software for the average user was a little less sophisticated than it is now, and word processors tended to ship without defaulting to typographer’s quotation marks. This only encouraged the infiltration of “dumb quotes” into the heretofore professionally typeset world of media like television and magazine advertisements, now often created on the desktop by software available to professionals and laypersons alike. And today, with the proliferation of the internet, we are practically back to square one. On this site we use directional marks that will display correctly in most browsers; this approach is not, however, that easy to implement in HTML. Straight-up-and-down marks are still, for reasons of technological expediency, the majority on the internet.

That’s a long way of saying that the unidirectional marks are a compromise and therefore inferior to the typographer’s marks. If you’ve got the technology, flaunt it.