Quote Unquote

Quote Unquote, what is the proper use? Learn the best practice here. Also learn a listening speaking exercise to help you improve in using punctuation in public speaking.

Thanks to Rich, an educator for this question.

In 1828, the first telegraph in the USA. was invented by Harrison Dyar who sent electrical sparks through chemically treated paper tape to burn dots and dashes. It was not until Samuel Morse fully exploited the use of magnets that the first practical and commercially successful telegraph was created in 1837.

The practical use and ultimately the commercial use of wireless telegraphy was made possible by Guglielmo Marconi near the end of the 19th century.

With the use of the telegraph came a new language of dots and dashes in combinations. Eventually words were used and new use of words resulted. To end a sentence the word STOP was spelled out as there was no punctuation in telegraph messages. When communicating the words of someone else, to give them attribution, the words quote (the statement) unquote were also used in place of the punctuation in the early years. (citation needed)

This practice was picked up by native speakers. However, there is no authoritative science that pinpoints the actual origins of the cultural use of the term quote unquote that we have been able to find.

Quote Unquote and Public Speaking

There are two ways to use quote and unquote verbalization. They can be used together and then make the statement or they can be used separately as quote....(the statement that is being quoted)...unquote.

Note: The punctuation problem continues. One of the problems with the web is that, like Morse Code, there is no recognition of some punctuation. So, single and double quote signs may not work in some instances, such as with the host I use for this site. Although they may appear on the text, when picked up by other feeds, they are stripped out. Likewise they cannot be used for keywords either.

When using the quote unquote together in speaking, it is often used for one word statements that may or may not be true but are attributed to a person.

So it would be.....Jon said that it was a, quote unquote...oxymoron...

In a longer sentence it would be....In the words of Jonathan Steele....quote...the greatest compliment I shall ever receive my ears will never hear because it will be a compliment paid about me to someone else rather than flattery to my ears....unquote. Note that this is really one of my original sayings.

Argument For Not Using Quote Unquote

The question is, should public speakers use the actual words quote and unquote verbally? Watch the best speakers. Do they ever use the words quote and unquote, either together or apart? The answer is no.

The best speakers use voice inflection, pausing and other speaker skills to emphasize the quotation of someone else.

Listening Speaking Exercise

Try this exercise. If your an educator, have your students use this exercise for a period of time to answer the question of whether or not to use the words...quote unquote.

As you speak, keep inserting the actual word of the punctuation in all your speech. Read the following words out loud.

Here is how it would work period

As you speak comma where ever there would normally be a punctuation comma you will speak the punctuation rather than having a pause or change in inflection of voice period If you were going to quote someone comma then you would use quote unquote as you would with proper grammar period

For more complex sentences there will be more punctuation period Consider how it would work and sound in a sentence period Jon comma Dave comma and I wanted to go to take the Critical Thinking Class with Misses Harvey semicolon it turns out that the class was already filled up preiod

This exercise will have two benefits.

It will illustrate the importance of not using the cliche turned colloquialism in public speaking or in our every day speech. Of course this is not a rule of speech. It is a best practice. In the event there is a word used by someone that is questionable as to truthfulness, if you want to use satire, or just want to be a bit goofy, by all means use quote unquote together.

It is also a great exercise to eliminate word whiskers such as like, and uh, uh and so. The mental process of saying the punctuation instead of pausing for it will help the mind focus on what is being said. It will help you think on your feet so to speak.

It will also help you appreciate the use of punctuation in speech. Once the use of verbalizing the punctuation is established, the next step is to say the punctuation as you would use it in speech. So, if you would pause at a comma, slow down the comma to allow the pause. If you would end the sentence in a question mark, then include the upward lilt in your voice when saying the punctuation question.

If someone should forget to verbalize the punctuation, everyone else should correct them on the spot and at the very second that they have the punctuation failure.


May the words Quote Unquote decease in peace. May they die as do many words and eventually languages die. If the inexperienced and the untrained should use them, let them be. For best practice, let these words rest in peace along with air quotes.

More on the Mind and Listening

Speechmastery.com: The Quote Unquote Resource

Lets Connect View Jonathan Steele RN Holistic Nurse's profile on LinkedIn
Lets Connect View Jonathan Steele RN Holistic Nurse's profile on LinkedIn
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