Rogue Ink

May 1, 2008

The War on English: Bunny Rabbit Ears

For those of you who do not know Eddie Izzard, please: join the madness. That’s a very funny clip, you should really go watch it. I can’t find a clip of this section of Dressed to Kill that is relevant to this particular post, so I shall scribe it out for you instead.

Pope Pius XII was meant to go and castigate Hitler for being a [indicates air quotes] “Genocidal Fuckhead . . . ” [Pause. Contemplates. Air quotes again.] “with bunny rabbit ears”. But he didn’t, he wimped out, and since then History has renamed Pius XII as “Pope Gutless Bastard I.”

Now this is funny for several reasons.

  1. Air quotes do, in fact, look like bunny rabbit ears.
  2. Anyone who refers to Hitler as a genocidal fuckhead is in my book of Awesome.
  3. He is still using his air quotes CORRECTLY.

Oh, no, wait. The last one isn’t funny. It’s that THING that’s been PISSING ME OFF.

I’ve been seeing a lot of this around town.

Suki’s Hot Dogs – “100% Beef”

Jimbo’s Electronics – The “Best” in the Business

Schmancy McSchmancy’s Restaurant – Our pork chop is gently braised with a white wine sauce and is “naturally organic.”

Do any of those look sarcastic to you?

They should, and there is a reason they look sarcastic. You do not EMPHASIZE something by giving it quotation marks. You actually de-emphasize it, by indicating that the thing you are bunny-rabbit-earing is not what you really mean. And if the pork chop is not really “naturally organic,” then I want to know what the hell it REALLY is. The quotation marks in that context make it seem all cloaked in mystery. Like it has a secret name.

I cannot tell you my real name, but you can call me “John.” Or “naturally organic.” I suggest John. It’s shorter.

Watch what happens when you read this sentence:

I think Paris Hilton is a “nice person.”

See? See how none of you believed me? DE-emphasis. I’m not saying she’s a super-nice-person by using quotation marks, I’m saying I don’t really think she’s a nice person, but I’m too polite to call her a waste of space.

I’m actually not too polite to say that at all, but I can’t be bothered.


Quotation marks around dialogue are fine. They neither emphasize nor de-emphasize, they just indicate dialogue. It is a great and noble purpose, and for it we salute the quotation marks. Quotation marks allow me to do this: “They say you should never hit a man with a closed fist, but it is on occasion hilarious.”

See? Everyone knew that wasn’t me talking. Why? Because I put it in quotation marks. I wish it was me talking, I really do. I wish I had dialogue that cool. I don’t. Captain Malcolm Reynolds does, the bastard. And by “bastard,” I mean “dreamboat.”

Those are the three things quotation marks are good for. Again, they are:

  1. Actually QUOTING someone
  2. Indicating that whatever is in quotations is not REALLY what you want to say.
  3. Bunny rabbit ears. And by “bunny rabbit ears” I mean, “being sardonic, sarcastic, or otherwise alliteratively snarky.”

That is IT. No exceptions. Actual quote, or one of two humor factors. They are not to be substituted for other emphasizing marks such as italics, boldfacing, or underlining. Do you see quotation marks in Microsoft Word up there with B, I, and U tabs? NO, you don’t, DO YOU? That is because THEY DO DIFFERENT SHIT.

This is beginning to make me angry simply because I write for a living and it makes me unhappy to see someone’s hard-worked copy reduced to an unintentional form of sarcasm against their company. Apparently, there’s a whole BLOG devoted to this, over at The “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotations. I did not know this, or I would not have bothered with this post. I would have just pointed you over there and waited until your screams made my point for me.

I give you an example from my own life. Here’s a tagline I’m thinking of for my company. Feedback is appreciated. I promise only to cry a little bit. But here’s how it would it appear on the website:

Good Ink: Saving good people from bad copy.

Fine, right? Say it’s fine. Say it’s awesome. Be nice to me, I have pinkeye. But what if I wrote it like this:

Good Ink: Saving “good people” from “bad copy.”

Confusing, no? Are they not really good people? Is it not really bad copy? Are those things euphemisms for other things? When she says “good people” does she really mean “genocidal fuckhead”?


::sigh:: Okay. It’s all okay. I have done my duty. Now I can sleep.

“There are two types of people in this world, good and bad. The good sleep better, but the bad seem to enjoy the waking hours much more.”

See how you knew it wasn’t me? THAT’S WHAT THEY’RE FOR.

Okay. Seriously. Good night.

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  1. “Funny”.

    Comment by Tim — May 1, 2008 @ 6:38 am | Reply

  2. Gaaaaah!!! That ALWAYS (not “always”) bothers me when I see people do that in ads or on signs. “Best tacos in LA” So… why can’t you just tell me that, instead of quoting it? Oi.

    Comment by Allison — May 1, 2008 @ 7:08 am | Reply

  3. No no. It’s “gutless bah-stid.” Must get the accent in there. And say it wearing blue eye shadow, woman! :))

    LOVE Eddie. Saw Eddie in Manhattan two months ago. He’s HOT and funny – my two main criteria in a man. Okay, so he borrows your clothes and makeup, but hey, he looks good even then.

    Comment by Lori — May 1, 2008 @ 12:03 pm | Reply

  4. I’d been contemplating a post on this very topic, but you beat me to it! When reading stuff with misused quotes, or explaining why they’re misused to the misuser, I just preface the bunny-eared bit with “so-called.” ‘Saving so-called “good people”…’ Helps clarify the point.

    Comment by Matt Tuley — May 1, 2008 @ 12:45 pm | Reply

  5. The anger and the rage, dude. I’m with you.

    We have a sign by the river here that says: Positivly “NO” Trespassing. First off, positivly is spelled wrong which makes me batso. Second off, I think “positively”, even when spelled correctly, is meant to mean something even more intense than “NO” Trespassing or even Absolutely “NO” Trespassing. Perhaps it is meant to address those who normally don’t pay attention to these kind of silly signs but the positivly makes them think twice.

    And the “NO”? Who said “NO”? Who are they quoting and why did they just say “NO”? Why didn’t they say “NO Trespassing” or “Postivly NO Trespassing”? Is there a guy wandering around the City Works Office saying “NO” at random intervals about random things and then they’re quoting him on poorly written signs?

    I need a fucking valium.

    Comment by Naomi Dunford — May 1, 2008 @ 1:17 pm | Reply

  6. Have you seen the blog of unnecessary quotation marks?

    I got some cough syrup for my daughter that said to give to “Emily” every 8 hours. I wondered who they thought I was really giving it to.

    Comment by Rete — May 1, 2008 @ 1:40 pm | Reply

  7. Your “naturally organic” pork chops made me think of my post today…and I am equally infuriated at the labeling used by your fancy schmancy local restaurant.

    The whole quote thing irritates the shit out of me. More so in person when people actually use the bunny ears. That’s REALLY irritating.

    Comment by Sandie — May 1, 2008 @ 3:10 pm | Reply

  8. Tim: “Thanks.” I think.

    Allison: I KNOW. Oh, it’s always for food, too. Drives me mad.

    Lori: ::sigh:: I heart Eddie so much. My friends got to see him in NYC on Valentine’s Day and they didn’t invite me because I was in Boulder or some stupid excuse like that.

    Matt: Good point. I should have used that. Bunny rabbit ears are funnier, though.

    Naomi: YES. YES. See? I knew I could get all you people back here if I just harnessed your RAGE.

    Sandie: Yeah. The bunny rabbit ears are only good if you’re going for the funny factor. Not if you’re actually trying to illustrate your point.

    Comment by Tei — May 1, 2008 @ 3:52 pm | Reply

  9. .. shrug..

    Meanings change. Words flip-flop, conventions change..

    May I recommend a really fascinating and fun book? See my review at

    I liked it so much I bought extra copies to give away to family – normally we circulate books, but this one I wanted to keep. But then we had visitors last month and one of them got engrossed so I had to let him take it so now I have to buy yet another copy..

    Comment by Tony Lawrence — May 1, 2008 @ 4:54 pm | Reply

  10. Tony: Yes. Yes they do. Naomi hates semi-colons, and I love them. I get that. But e.e. cummings used to drive me mad too. I always secretly want to capitalize all the letters of his name. Well. Not all of them. But the RIGHT ones.

    The Power of Babel is my personal favorite language-transition book. It is okay when language changes. But not when everyone else is still doing it the right way. If you said, “that’s terrifyingly cool,” and you were still in Shakespearian England, that would not have been okay. Everyone would have been like, what’s scary and cold? And you would not have been able to answer. Because you would have been all alone in your transformative language. And that makes you wrong.

    Comment by Tei — May 1, 2008 @ 7:04 pm | Reply

  11. na…..
    you are a rogue…I am a rebel… and I use qotation marks just because I “feel” like it.

    This is one of those rules I know about and break all the damn time.

    Just because I can and I want to.

    Sometimes I do it because somewhere my pissy little (well he wasn’t so little) boss with the red pen is swallowing his Adam’s apple and hyperventalating. It makes me laugh with glee. BWAAAHAAAA……….

    But…I don’t do it when I have to be a good little girl…

    but then again I don’t put myself in those situations very often.
    dot dot dot…
    (Want to do an article on the proper use of the ellipse next? I’ll ignore that one too. 🙂

    Comment by wendikelly — May 1, 2008 @ 8:29 pm | Reply

  12. Ellipses are for fun and profit, dude. Have AT.

    I don’t object to breaking a style rule because you WANT to, because you are awesome and rebellious and just don’t give a damn. Power the fuck on, dude. Stick a parentheses in an unconventional place. Whatever gets you off.

    I object to IGNORANCE. To THINKING you’re doing it right and doing it OH SO WRONG. There is a difference between rebellion and ignorance. One is awesome. The other looks silly.

    Comment by Tei — May 1, 2008 @ 8:41 pm | Reply

  13. and dear Eddie was sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo hot on V-Day, even though he was dressed as a MAN! no heels! and a beard! **angst**… but we WERE close enough to count the hairs on his normally transvestical chin. **happy sigh** AND he loves wikipedia! Who knew?

    Comment by lizbeth — May 2, 2008 @ 2:46 am | Reply

  14. Have you seen The “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks ( ‘Tis enjoyable. But I had to remove it from my Google Reader ’cause they update so often and I just don’t have the time to read every entry. Which is a shame because it means there are way too many incidences of unnessary quotation-make use.

    Comment by s g — May 2, 2008 @ 2:51 am | Reply

  15. Lizbeth: I hate you.

    s.g. NO I had NOT and I WISH I HAD. I’m putting it up on this post.

    Comment by Tei — May 2, 2008 @ 3:20 am | Reply

  16. When I finally managed to pick myself up off the floor, I searched for your Digg button and couldn’t find it.
    Thank you for sending me to Eddie Izzard and The “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotations.

    As a copywriter for a large corporation, I spent a lot of my time removing quotation marks from proposals and brochure copy. I never truly understood why we offered a “Digital Camera Service”, or exactly what the quotation marks were implying about our service. It probably would have been less confusing and more profitable to sell a Digital Camera Service. But what do I know?

    Anyway, thanks for the stress relief.

    Comment by Pamela — May 2, 2008 @ 4:17 am | Reply

  17. Pamela – Yeah, I’m working on that. Shortly to have a blog design that features all the fixin’s. Sorry, though. Maybe I’ll get Digg Dugg soon.

    As for the stress relief: Anytime.

    Comment by Tei — May 2, 2008 @ 4:35 am | Reply

  18. Tei,

    Ah hahahaha! Oh my goodness I am cackling I am laughing so hard (not a good sound). Just when I thought I was safe, the comments are a riot, too!

    I thought I was the worst stickler. You have me beat by a mile because you can be a stickler and be totally raw with the language at the same time. No wonder Naomi adores you.

    Another fine book on the subject is Eats, Shoots & Leaves by my fav stickler, Lynne Truss. She has a newer book subtitled “The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today” or something like that (I’m quoting my memory here…), which clearly you would not want to read, as it would ruin your schtick.

    This sign used to be outside the pool at a small town in West Virginia that I visited as a kid: “Absolutely no profound language.”

    Please understand that the quotation marks are theirs, though I am quoting them. The layers of irony there are pretty thick, especially since in this tiny mountain town there was almost zero likelihood of any profound language coming from… well, from anyone.

    It’s been darn near thirty years, and I still bear the scars.

    Great post!



    Comment by Kelly — May 2, 2008 @ 10:08 pm | Reply

  19. I think I love you.

    Comment by Erica — May 4, 2008 @ 4:04 am | Reply

  20. Kelly: Love the cackles, darling. Keep it up. “No profound language” is going to be my new motto. I’m serious. It’s going on the business cards.

    Erica: You just made my day.

    Comment by Tei — May 4, 2008 @ 5:35 am | Reply

  21. […] Erica would not have come around and said, “I think I love you.” […]

    Pingback by When Your Business Blog Isn’t a Business Blog « Rogue Ink — May 8, 2008 @ 4:17 am | Reply

  22. […] was that he was “only a minor celebrity.” In the words of another minor celebrity (with bunny rabbit ears), Cher Horowitz, “As […]

    Pingback by hapagirl » Blog Archive » Did Icarus look at his feet when he was upside down? — July 15, 2008 @ 8:08 am | Reply

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