Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: March 23, 2021, 7:18 a.m. Humanist 34.295 - looking closely at smart quotes

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 34, No. 295.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
                      Hosted by DH-Cologne
                Submit to:

        Date: 2021-03-22 12:05:31+00:00
        From: Henry Schaffer <>
        Subject: Outsmarted by smart quotes

The single quote/apostrophe ' and the double quote " are both perfectly
good ascii characters. They apparently aren't good enough for many people
including typographers, word processing software designers and some of the
users, and maybe much of the literary world (which I don't inhabit.)

For those wonderful people there apparently is a need for each character to
come in two forms - an opening one and a closing one - which are slanted in
appropriate directions so one can determine the start and ends of a quote
without having to think. So we have now (not included in ascii) the ‘ and
the ’ - the opening and closing single quotes (apostrophes) and similarly
the opening and closing double quotes “ and ”. (And please don't confuse
any of these with the backtick character ` (aka grave accent, found on the
same key as the tilde.)

The "smart" characters are *not* ascii and when one is working with
computers sometimes this makes a huge difference - and that's what bit me!
I was developing some code (a Perl script which handled strings and which
involved both single and double quotes) and I typed it into a Google
Document because it was part of some documentation I'm working on. Actually
I copied part from an existing script, and then added some more. But
helpful Google Docs has a default of using Smart Quotes - so every time I
typed in a ' or a " it translated those into the "Smart" varieties, but
what I copied stayed as ascii characters.

OK - then I tested the code/script - and got the most confusing array of
error messages! Looking closely at the code didn't help at first since '
and ‘ look pretty much the same! Look closely and you'll see they are
different - but it took me a while to see the difference and to
correct those characters - and then the script worked!

Oh well - I felt rather dumb after all that - but perhaps sharing this will
help someone else.


P.S. I noticed that I wrote above "I'm working on." That brings to mind a
Churchill quote
P.P.S. In Google Docs Tools -> Preferences and one can unselect "Smart

Unsubscribe at:
List posts to:
List info and archives at at:
Listmember interface at:
Subscribe at: