Smart Quotes Are Actually Pretty Dumb

QuotesYou may have noticed a small change here in terms of text formatting. We’ve gone back to the old way of doing quotes. So instead of the text looking more like a typeset document, it looks like more like something from a typewriter. In the past, “A quoted section had these nice curly quotation marks!” But now, “A quoted section has these rather awkward straight quotation marks.” The same thing is true of of the single quote: ‘This is out’ and ‘this is in!’

Strangely, the smart quotes are the default in WordPress. And worse than that, they aren’t something you can just go into the admin and turn off. That doesn’t make much sense. This is something that a lot of people want. In fact, I’ve noticed a trend on websites away from the smart quotes. The biggest reason seems to be that people don’t like to deal with then when cutting and pasting. Because I had some notion that I might want go back, I’ve always changed smart quotes in text I’ve copied to straight quotes. Now I’m glad I was so rigid about that.

My reason for changing this is different than most others’ reason. The fact is that smart quotes just aren’t all that smart. Whoever designed the system did not bother to update it, because problems show up all the time. Here are some examples:

…”We are going to have…”
The system provides a right quote because it thinks a sentence is ending. I would never do this, but others do.
I put quotes in the middle of sentences—”Like this one!”—to spice things up.
This is much the same thing, although I used to do it all the time. As a result, I changed my style guide to put spaces around m-dashes, which I really didn’t want to do.
“He said, ‘Double and single quotes don’t work together well.’”
I’ll admit, this one is subtle, but it drives me crazy. The ending single quote is straight because the system can’t figure out what to do with it. That seems like an obvious one to me, but there you go.

There are other examples, but I can’t think of them right now. The point is clear enough. Smart quotes make errors all the time. If I’m going to have to worry about it, I might as well just go back to the old style, which everyone understands and works in all fonts.

There are other things that changed that I didn’t necessarily want. Before, the double hyphen (–) was converted into an m-dash. That’s gone now. I will kind of miss that. It also used to convert three periods (…) into an ellipsis (…). That one I’m kind of glad about. Of course, it makes no real difference. But it drives me crazy on other sites that do the conversion, where people have the bad habit of using four periods and ending up with this monstrosity, “And then he said…. boo!” Clearly, one of those periods is not like the others.

How to Fix This in WordPress

Interestingly, WordPress divides all of this up into three areas. You can’t just provide a single line of code to change it. You have to change the title, the content, and the comments. For a while, I had it turned off on the title and content, but not the comments. That looked bizarre. I can understand the title distinction: people might want that. But the comments?! I just don’t think so.

In order to change this, you have to edit your functions.php file. You do this by going into Appearance in the admin area and then selecting “Editor.” Then click on the Theme Functions link on the right. At the bottom of the file, add the following three lines:

remove_filter(‘the_title’, ‘wptexturize’);
remove_filter(‘the_content’, ‘wptexturize’);
remove_filter(‘comment_text’, ‘wptexturize’);

And then you too will have dumb but perfect quotes on your blog.

12 thoughts on “Smart Quotes Are Actually Pretty Dumb

  1. I didn’t understand any of that. But you do and that is important.

    And now off to RiffTrax Live! Because humor is needed today.

    • I didn’t realize RiffTrax was doing live shows. Have fun. You do know that Mike Nelson is a right wing extremist, right? Stick with Joel and Trace and Josh and Frank! (But let us know how the show was!)

      • Yes. I was extremely disappointed to learn that about Mike but I always like Joel more anyway so finding out he is a lefty was delightful.

        • Absolutely. I’ve always been a Trace Beaulieu fan, myself. He’s the only guy on MST3K who ever figured out how to operate a puppet correctly! But that’s not the main thing. I want to be Crow when I grow up.

          • Crow was alright but Tom Servo was curiously sexy.
            The opening bit was really funny. Unfortunately they made too many racist and fat jokes during the movie. So not as fun as the Room, Birdemic, and Manos: Hands Of Fate.

            • Yeah, Tom was more sensual — that’s for sure. Part of that was Kevin Murphy voice, I think.

              Sorry the show wasn’t so great. I bought their “trax” for Roadhouse and The Matrix. Not bad.

              • If you go to Comic Cons (and I do) sometimes you find people selling the DVDs of their shows so you can invite friends over, have a large quantity of liquor and enjoy.

                • I also bought one Cinematic Titanic, which was also good. Personally, I miss the bots. I would love to do movie nights. Unfortunately, everyone I know who likes this kind of stuff is hundreds or thousands of miles away. By the way: The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra.

                  I did go to a comic convention when I was about 10 years old. And I’ve been to two Star Trek conventions. But mostly, I don’t much like going outside. I realize that is probably true for most people at these conventions…

  2. Thanks for the distraction! Not tonight though, not on Amazon Instant Video so I have to get the DVD. But it will be in time for the bad movie night my friends and I are going to have.

    Since many of the people there are rather pale except the ones covered in costume or make up, I think you may be correct on the not wanting to go outside. I also find outside to be troublesome since it has the Sun.

    • Yeah, I’m much happier going out if it’s raining. People tend to fetishize the outdoors. I think people often pretend to like it when they actually prefer being in beautiful, climate controlled areas. But even I’m willing to admit that there is a time and some places for outdoors.

      • Of course there is. Generally I never get those conditions here but sometimes when I go home to California (like San Fransisco) and it is rainy, misty, freezing cold and simply perfect. Or when I go to England, and the entire country decides to be decently wet.

        I think people fetishize the outdoors because they think they need to since they feel guilty over our destroying it.

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