Saturday Night Live (Screenshot: nbc.com)

It looks like the internet has claimed another victim. The music industry, bookstores, basic human decency, and now curly quotation marks have all fallen prey to the world wide web. Online publications ranging from Rolling Stone to Fast Company are increasingly favoring straight quotation marks over the old-fashioned curled kind. Glenn Fleishman laments the phenomenon in an informative piece for The Atlantic. Curly quote marks, Fleishman says, are classified as “smart” quotes, since they denote the beginning and end of a title or utterance, while the straight ones are derided as “dumb” quotes. Many modern readers, accustomed to the way text looks online, may not even notice the relatively subtle difference between the two. But to people who really care about typefaces, this kind of thing matters.

Screenshot: FontShop.com

In order to explain the situation fully, Fleishman takes the reader through a pocket history of quotation marks. In centuries past, punctuation was at the mercy of typesetters who worked with metal, paper, and ink. These days, however, online publications use content management systems. Fleishman blames the downfall of curly quotation marks on these uncouth content management systems. Contemporary editors and writers need to know that text can be copied and pasted across various applications and platforms and remain unchanged. That’s why straight quotation marks have become ubiquitous. But in ditching curly quotes, Fleishman says, the internet is actually betraying its roots:

This lack of quote sophistication is odd, because the web’s design origins owe a lot to choices Steve Jobs made at Apple and later at his second computer firm, Next. Jobs’s attachment to type famously stems from a calligraphy class taken at Reed College, and he ensured that the first Mac had a mix of bespoke and classic typefaces that included curly quotes and all the other punctuation a designer could want.

The entire, sad saga of the curly quotation mark’s demise can be found here.

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