and not content

As a writer, are you ‘lazy’, ‘tired’, ‘unimaginative’? Do you wish to convey a subtle air of ennui and world-weary lassitude? Are you a master of irony and the knowing ironic nod? Or do you simply hope to hide your inability to think beyond clichés, and to pass off your indolence as wit and wisdom?

What you need are quotation marks. New DiRections, for some old-fashioned reason, keeps them single. Most contemporary publications (following American patterns of "better more than less") compound the ugliness – or heighten the effect – by using them doubled. O vile lumps of diacritical rubbish.

Direct quotation of the words spoken or written by another person is, of course, perfectly reasonable, but where did this horrid habit come from, that disowns so many words and phrases used? To keep to the subjects most often found in ND: ‘liberal’, ‘catholic’, ‘evangelical’. It wasn’t me, you understand, who invented these titles. Heavens no. Nothing to do with moi. I would have devised adjectives much more sophisticated, but one does have to use the common parlance, or one’s readers might not understand.

‘Women priests’, ‘traditionalists’. Don’t suppose for a moment that I acknowledge any such status to these wretched people, but one does have to use these titles, without being contaminated by actually touching them.

What cowardice! What despicable laziness! Irony? Absolutely not. It is sheer bad faith. There are a number of alternatives – so-called; self-styled; supposed; alleged; professed; assumed; suspected... Each, clearly, has a meaning; but if that is what you mean, then say it.

This lack of commitment; this fear of taint; this hiding behind other people’s judgement. It’s horrid. And all this from a little piece of punctuation. Who’d’ve thought it?

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