Friday, March 23, 2012

Unnecessary Punctuation Dept.

“No” Parking, 2012

I have always been puzzled by signs and advertising headlines that have quotation marks around them. The notice, above, painted on the side of a former Fort Worth, Texas, candy factory, is a good example.
Quotation marks are used to indicate that the written text is being spoken by someone. Advertising headlines are understood to be the spoken language of the advertiser. They don’t need parentheses.
But you still see this happen from time to time. I guess someone thinks it makes the headlines more familiar or folksy.
I don’t know what was going on in this backstreet in Fort Worth, Texas. If the sign painter had wanted to attach some kind of emphasis to this message, to indicate that to park in front of it is a really, really choice, he could have underlined “No.” He could have painted the “No” in italics. He could have put “Absolutely” in front of the phrase, even though that would have been redundant. (As in, “What part of ‘No’ do you not get?”) Or, most simply, he could have put an exclamation point behind the whole deal, as in “NO PARKING!”
One of my college professors, who worried—and rightly so—that many business school students were not very good writers, once spent an entire class period beating it into our heads that the exclamation point is the most energy-packed element of punctuation. He cautioned us to use that power carefully since there’s nothing else you can use to up the emphasis ante once you’ve used your first exclamation point. We laughed at that thought, I’ll admit. But of course he was right.


  1. I have to admit I'm guilty of overusing exclamation points, and I even taught students not to do it. Mea culpa. The quotation marks are strange here--I know they think they're just emphasizing it, but it comes across as if the "no" is supposed to imply irony of some sort.

  2. My favourite 'no parking' sign doesn't abuse punctuation but does contain a strange positive-negative: It says "Parking positively prohibited." Hmmm... positive prohibition?

  3. Well, it was in Texas and anyone who has ever spent any time there knows them goat ropers just ain't right!