“That should be in quotes,” he said

“By her troth,” she said, “she thought it was time to bid Mr. Mertoun gang hame and get bandages, when she had seen, with her ain twa een, Mordaunt ganging down the cliff like a wildcat….”

What you see in the passage above is an example of something I had heard of (from my friend, the scholar Dale Nelson), but had never encountered – or hadn’t noticed before. It has to do with the use of quotation marks. Turns out the rules have changed over time.

For you and me – living today and erudite as we both are – the rules of quotations are fairly simple. You’ve got direct quotations and indirect quotations (there are probably proper names for them I never learned – feel free to enlighten me). A direct quotation is supposed to recount what the character said, word for word. Direct quotations are to be set off with quotations marks:

“Lars Walker’s books,” he said, “are the best Viking novels written in Robbinsdale, Minnesota in our time.”

Then there are indirect quotations, usually indicated by the word “that”:

He said that Lars Walker’s books are the best Viking novels written in Robbinsdale, Minnesota in our time.

The quotation way up at the top of this post comes from Walter Scott’s The Pirate, which I reviewed below. The speaker is a woman named Swertha, and the “she” who thought it was time to bid Mertoun “gang hame” was Swertha herself.

Quotation marks were a relatively new thing in those days, and writers hadn’t yet worked out exactly how they should be used.

Our rules for direct and indirect quotations are, in fact, a fairly recent phenomenon. They should not be applied (in my view) to older literature, such as the Bible.

4 thoughts on ““That should be in quotes,” he said”

    1. I’m talking about Scripture in general. I myself don’t believe people’s words quoted in the Bible are usually meant to be direct quotes. i’m not sure the concept existed in those days.

  1. I agree with Lars’s remark above.

    I have red-letter Bible. In St John 3, verses 5-8, 10-21 are in red, but that is an interpretation, that all of these sentences are the words of Jesus. That would not be evident in the Greek manuscripts.

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