The Informant—Metalleus SpecGram Vol CLI, No 4 Contents The Language of Prehistory—Merritt Greenberg and Joseph Ruhlen

The Quotta and the Quottiod

Punctuation Designed for Linguists, by Linguists

Vére Çélen
l’École de SpecGram
Cheboksary, Chuvashia

It is not news to linguists that particular forms of punctuation can be problematic. One frequent source of considerable friction in certain circles is the unending debate over whether and when (and, increasingly, why) commas and periods go inside or outside quotation marksespecially when they are not actually part of the material to be

Transformation I
Shades of Grey
by Piotr Pablo Paulsen

quoted. Typically careful linguists usually prefer not to include punctuation in a quoted citation form or gloss, while many punctilious punctuationally prescriptivist publishers demand they be (or worse, silently and patronizingly move them) inside.

Simple examples of the two opposing styles are given in (1) and (2). These sentences have the rare property that even the most ardent adherents on either side of the argument agree on their acceptability as writtennil!

(1) Avoid choosing between ‘this’, and ‘that.’

(2) Avoid choosing between “this”, and “that.”

First-class journals, such as SpecGram, have long ago adopted linguist-friendly style sheets that allow authors the proper freedom to do the logical and sensible thing. This is even true of many lesser linguistic trade publications such as Language or Linguistic Inquiry. Unfortunately, it is not at all true of many other non-specialty publishers. The level of fanaticism, wasted passion, and downright misinformation from both sides of the debate (a term used loosely at best; “brawl” is perhaps more accurate) has reached levels normally reserved only for the controversy over the claims of Wrathful Dispersion proponents.





Despite these turbulent troubles, there is a solution that is both simple and elegant, and which requires only the cooperation of typesetterslikely (and preferably) without even the knowledge of difficult and recalcitrant editors and publishers. That solution comes in the form of new blended punctuation marks, dubbed the quotta, a combination of quote and comma, and the quottiod, a combination of quote and period. By superimposing the quotation marks over other punctuation, the question of which should come first is completely avoided. These forms are, accidentally or otherwise, used in a hand-written form all the timea fact which inspired these more formal typographic variants.

Both the quotta and quottiod come in two forms, the single (merged with a single quote) and the double (merged with a double quote). For those who are typographically less adventurous, the single quotta and single quottiod are much less easily detected by the casual, untrained observer. However, the truth of the matter is that people see mostly what they want to see, and both single and double forms serve well.

Enlarged examples are provided at right for those who wish to examine the details. Examples of common usage of both the single and double forms, parallel to those in (1) and (2) above, are given below in (3) and (4).



For those who remain unsure about the utility and practicality of these small but clever constructions, let us now consider in some small detail the stories of similar attempts at solutions to similar difficulties that have come before.

Flexible, adaptable,
and universally expressive.

One of the most famous and most successful is, of course, the OdCom, a delightful bit of typographic prestidigitation that resolves the debate over the so-called Oxford Comma by being both present and absent in equal measures. As previously noted, people tend to see what they tend to want to see, and both the OdCom and the quotta/quottiodbrilliant practical solutionsprovide just the opportune visual ambiguity required.


In contrast, consider the interrobang, an unfortunate blending of an exclamation point and question mark designed to resolve the alleged “conflict” over whether to use “!?” or “?!” when expressing a questioning exclamation or an exclamatory question. This is just stupid, for several reasons. First and foremostunlike the use of the Oxford Comma or the choice of placing commas inside or outside quotation marksthe difference between “!?” and “?!” is not mere arbitrary convention, at least not to those with refined sensibilities. In fact, the difference between them, when we consider their obvious precedence and scope, is exactly the difference between a questioning exclamation and an exclamatory question!


Transformation II
Shades of Grey
by Piotr Pablo Paulsen

The interrobang is lacking in several key aspects:

No wonder the interrobang has never had much currency outside of occasional use by under-imaginative advertising agencies.

On the other hand, the runaway success of the OdComa fact which very few outside typography enthusiast circles have even noticedbodes well for the quotta and the quottiod. Don’t look for them coming soon in a publication near youif all goes as planned, you’ll never even notice them.

[The astute reader will notice that, outside of examples (3) and (4), the quotta and quottiod are not used within the body of this article, even though an opportunity for such use exists. Again, this is because SpecGram uses a linguist-friendly style sheet that allows authors to simply use the obvious, logical, and sensible punctuation. —Eds.]

The InformantMetalleus
The Language of PrehistoryMerritt Greenberg and Joseph Ruhlen
SpecGram Vol CLI, No 4 Contents