Monday, July 21, 2008

Quotey Fingers

The other day I was writing an e-mail to a friend of mine, ribbing him about his new 'working at home' gig, and during my bashing I wrote something along of lines of "oh yeah, all that (quotey fingers) WORK that you do, doing all that (quotey fingers) WORKING." We all know what 'quotey fingers' means, it's that two fingered gesture one makes when stressing a point in a sarcastic tone. The late George Carlin even listed individuals using this gesture as "people he could do without." Anyway, I was trying to be funny by actually spelling out quotey fingers instead of just putting the text in quotes like normal people do, the humor being that not only was it an extra 17 characters of typing rather than just hitting ", but it forced the visual image of me actually making the finger gesture, while reading it in text form. It was only after thinking about the whole thing in greater detail (because, well... that's just what I do) that I realized the real absurdity of the whole quotey fingers phenomenon. Consider this:
If one wanted to determine the origin of using quotes to sarcastically stress a point (if one was, say, really really bored), then one could argue it started as a verbal method of slowing down and stressing a word or phrase to suggest an opposite meaning. "Oh, yeah, they went back to his place for CAWFFEEEEEE" suggests they were not, in fact, drinking coffee. This evolved into quotation marks when in written form in order to stress the point: "...and afterwards I'm sure they "went to sleep"" implies no sleep was had.
Then, not convinced the sarcastic tone of the spoken word was enough, people started supplementing the tone with using their fingers to mimic quotation marks above their heads, placing virtual punctuation around the phrase needing emphasis, hoping that will drive home the bitter sarcasm they were trying to get across. What resulted was essentially a redundant gesture, because it came from a written translation of a particular way of speaking. It's no different than asking a question (complete with raising the pitch on the last syllable, the tonal cue of a query) and squiggling your hand around in the shape of a question mark at the end. Yeah, we get it, it's a question, the fact that your pitched changed at the end gave it away, we didn't need the visual.

And that, my friends, is where my humor comes in. Writing "quotey fingers", the spelling out of a hand gesture derived from the written punctuation referring to a tonal difference of a spoken phrase meant to display sarcasm, is damned funny to me.

Yeah, sometimes even I worry about myself.


Steve said...

I, too, have thought about the origins of the practice of quoting off items that are, as you called it, sarcastic. But I have a different theory than that it was done so simply to emphasize, or slow down a conversation like you would when you speak it or emphasize it in speech. So, my theory kind of nullifies some of the stuff you said, because I'm coming from a different angle.

To me, sarcasm really isn't the key. True, we're often being sarcastic when we quote things off, but not always. Rather, we tend to quote things off just to indicate that they are not literal, or that their is play to the word or elasticity. For example, while all your examples did involve sarcasm as you suggested that normal events like coffee drinking and sleep were either euphemism or down right lies for something more smutty, gossipy, or controversial like sexual escapade, other examples wouldn't need sarcasm. For example, I might write:

You want to type your name plus the "squiggly" key to login.

In this example, I'm simply indicating jargon, or "for lack of a better word" type of thinking. Maybe I didn't know it was called a tildé. But sarcasm doesn't play a role.

Or I might write...

I don't know who the best contractor is for the job. So I think I'm gonna have to do a little "homework" and find out who I should call.

In this instance, I'm using the quotes to indicate that this is my own vernacular, and a colorful way of speaking. After all, I know it's not really "homework" in the sense that we know it from school and even if it does involve "work," I would have said that even if I planned to research it somewhere other than home, like at the library or something. Main point being, I am acknowledging that "homework" is playful, not literal.

So, my sense is that while it is often sarcastic, it's simply indicating something that is not tried and true, not on the level, not to be taken at absolute face value. Much like we didn't expect them to be having coffee back at his place.

So, when you consider THAT, my guess has always been that origins of the quoting of items started when people actually WE'RE quoting people, literally. As in, "They went back to his place for 'coffee.'" Meaning, "That is a quote, my friend. I am telling you what HE said. What HE called it. Do with it what you want. 'Cause you know and I know that ain't true, but I'm telling you what he said."

So it really was a quote, originally.

But then, as it grew in popularity, as a society we started quoting off things that weren't actual quotes, simply because they SOUNDED like quotes or that they would be better explained if they were.

So in this case,maybe no one said anything. But when we saw the two of them leaving the bar, we thought, "I saw them heading towards his house. Guess he's gonna go 'have some coffee' with her." And we quote that off AS THOUGH that is what he WOULD have sai or MIGHT AS WELL HAVE SAID, because we know there was no way in hell he was going to be forthright with what was really going on.


Paul G. said...

Although what you say is arguably right, I think we're talking about slightly different usage. Whereas your focus is on the literal use of quotation marks for things other than direct quotes, such as jargon or words that maybe shouldn't be taken literally, I was actually reverse-engineering the physical act of making quotey fingers while speaking, making the observation that it originally STARTED as a way of verbally punctuating a sarcastic message, which translated into quotation marks when written, then moved BACK into the spoken medium with the addition of the gesture, which there was no need for, since the emphasis was already there in the tone.
In other words, I was working backwards from an an end point, you were working forward, but along a slightly different path. Somehow, this all makes sense in my head.

Steve said...

Well, I'm harping on a different usage, for sure, but I get what you say. In my mind, it's all related, though, because your focus—which is very funny and keenly observed, by the way—points out that the fingers are "a redundant gesture, because it came from a written translation of a particular way of speaking." That is the part where I am saying, I don't think it necessarily does come from a particular way of speaking. I think it just comes from indicating a lack of authenticity to the word choice. Sometimes sarcastic, sometimes not So I would argue that the gesture is not redundant, but quite NEEDED at times. That's why, despite what George Carlin said in that one bit, I think quotey-fingers are cool. I say, you go ahead and use 'em!

Of course, the thread originally started when you said you put them in an email instead of using real quote marks, where you can. THAT part is the kind of bizarre thing that is as blogworthy as anything I've ever seen. It's that ass-backwards texting on your phone or like Scooby and Shaggy jumping through the window to get a key, and then jumping back out it so they can open the door to get back in.

You could also expound on the whole concept by talking about when people (like me, sometimes) actually SAY the "quote unquote." "They quote-unquote 'had coffee'."

Sometimes I say the "quote unquote" and make the quotey-signs as well at the same time. Talk about redundant!

Paul G. said...

I guess what I'm saying is that the actual quotey finger gesture would only be used to imply sarcasm, not lack of authenticity. Take your previous examples: While it's perfectly normal to type 'hit the "Squiggly" Key' or "do a little 'homework'" in an e-mail or letter, you wouldn't actually DO quotey fingers while SAYING those things. However, if I were to go up to Rich and say, 'How's that "WORK" thing going?' (whilst making the gesture) that certainly implies sarcasm, especially when my tone changes.
I think it just boils down to this: You're tracking the origins of using quotation marks as punctuation in a literal sense, I'm starting a little farther up at the point they began to be used as a sarcastic highlight. Who knows, at this point I'm not even sure we're not arguing the same point!

And YES! I completely forgot about actually saying "Quote-unquote" DAMMIT! That's going to irk me... I could have made an even better point by saying that it's now DOUBLE redundant to say it, make the gesture, AND change your tone!

Steve said...

Yeah, I'll buy that somewhat. I still think that you could use the quotey fingers in a way that portrays something other than sarcasm. But I'll meet you halfway and say, yes, I think that is USUALLY when you see it used.

And, like you said, you were starting further up the line...exactly.

As for forgetting "quote unquote"... hey, that's what these comments are for. For others to fill in the blanks you may have missed. Luckily, we've now filled it in, so rest assured.

rassmguy said...

Yeah, yeah, blah, blah, blah--you guys are missing the real point here...which is that I indirectly inspired a blog entry! Woo-hoo!

Steve said...

Or the even realer point, which is that you wouldn't have even known that if I didn't tell you about it.


Paul G. said...

[[[Yeah, yeah, blah, blah, blah--you guys are missing the real point here...which is that I indirectly inspired a blog entry! Woo-hoo!]]]

Which you no doubtedly read while (quotey fingers) WOR-KING.......

rassmguy said...

You guys "suck."