Following what had until then been a rather lackluster and even “dry” academic career, Jake Hanson, Professor of Urban Studies at Nashville's Tennessee State University, discovered that the prolific use of quotation marks in his published works substantially enhanced his academic panache.
"It's no exaggeration to say that they changed everything," said Hanson, who came to appreciate quotation marks for their ability to lend literary flair to even the most mundane words and phrases. "They open up an entire parallel universe of implication and meaning - a parallel 'verse,' if you will." As he tells it, Hanson's innovative quotation-mark-laden literary style "marked" not just a new "verse" but a whole new "chapter" in his academic career.
And just how, exactly, did Hanson come to embark upon this new “chapter”?
According to Hanson, in his early days at TSU, his boundless enthusiasm for the subject of urban studies, together with his desire to imbue his published works with a “take-notice” vibrancy often lacking in trade literature, tended to result in articles works dotted with exclamation points. He soon realized, however, that the abundant exclamation points weren’t serving him well.
“It was hurting my credibility,” said Hanson. “I found that I wasn’t being taken seriously.”
Reluctantly, in the face of academic ridicule, Hanson toned down his exclamation-point usage. "For a while, I focused on making my points without 'points,'" he said. He reached a personal compromise, setting firm but flexible limits on his usage: no more than one exclamation point per page, as a general rule, or one per paragraph for more urgent stories.
The tactic helped, at least on its face; Hanson's colleagues no longer dismissed his writings out of hand as overly emotional or overtly hysterical. But the self-censorship left him feeling unsatisfied, and he found that he still wasn’t being taken as seriously as he would have liked. “People are afraid of wholehearted, no-holds-barred excitement in the world of academia," he said. "I realized I wasn’t going to be able to change that.”
It was clear that Hanson needed a new “go-to” form of punctuation - but what? Inspiration came during a conversation with a dramatic student in the habit of using "air quotes" to make points during class discussions. "I saw it work for him," said Hanson. "I wasn't certain that the technique would prove comparably effective in written form, but at that point, I had nothing to lose. I figured it was worth a shot."
Initially wary as a result of his humiliating exclamation point experience, Hanson was at first extremely judicious in his usage of quotation marks to lend innovative nuance to commonly-used words and phrases. He became emboldened, however, once he saw the powerful effect that that tiny pair of marks had on his readers.
“In my very next published article," said Hanson, "framing the words ‘justice,’ ‘success,’ ‘Christian,’ and ‘policing' in quotation marks sparked some of the most vibrant dialogues I’d heard in decades. I knew right then that I was onto something.”
Hanson quickly grew much more daring in his usage, sometimes throwing "Q-marks" around random words or phrases, just to see what happened. That fast and loose approach got him into a bit of trouble with a long-time colleague, after he referred to her in an email as a "friend." He learned to exercise more discernment in his usage of quotation marks.
“They work best with abstract nouns,” said Hanson. “That was a lesson hard-learned.”
Since then, Hanson says that his prolific use of quotation marks has continued to pay off in spades. He's found that the unexpected framing in quotation marks of parts of common phrases - e.g., "making 'love,'" "modern 'culture,'" and "working for a 'living'" - have had the effect of making him sound smarter, or at least more abstruse, than he actually is. And the literary flair that abundant quotation marks have lent his published works cannot be denied - as evidenced in the university's recent decision to award him tenure.
"My dean said that my peer-reviewed urban studies articles possess a certain elusive 'X-factor' that makes them seem highly significant, at least at first glance," said Hanson. "Q-factor is more like it, I'd say!"
He added with a wink, "And just between you and me, now that I'm tenured, the world of urban studies can expect to see a marked increase in the overall number of exclamation points in academic journals." He chuckled to himself. "Man, I love my 'job'!"