Double primes and quotation marks

QuotationMarksI first learned about type when completing my design degree at NSCAD in the ’70s. We were taught how to set type, i.e.: real little nuggets of lead. Heaven forbid if you ever dropped a case of 6 point type. The process was slow – very slow. But it was part of the exercise of learning to take your time and be sensitive to the intricacies of beautifully set type. Those experiences have stayed with me, and when I see type set in a sloppy manner it feels just like a small pebble in my shoe and I have to shake it out.

I often see single and double primes being used when a quotation mark (or curly quote) should be used. These tiny little marks are often misused and can confuse the reader. And they can drive any typographer to madness.

Double prime is an abbreviation for inches (1") and for seconds of arc (360"). Prime is an abbreviation for feet (1' = 12"). They can be straight or slanted.

Quotation marks are used in many different instances but mainly to set off speech and quotations. “The angry designer whipped out her permanent marker.”

Single quotation marks are used when setting off a word or phrase within a quotation. “To say that ‘I mean what I say’ is the same as ‘I say what I mean’ is to be as confused as Alice at the Mad Hatter’s tea party.”

Then we come to the wonderful apostrophe which is identical to the single quotation mark. It is used as a sign of the possessive (Peggy’s marker is very black) and hopefully not erroneously as “banana’s on sale today.”