Ned Brooks recently brought the quasiquote to the attention of the Shady Characters blog (about “The secret life of punctuation”) .
Thanks to Brooks, Shady Characters featured scans of two original definitions as they first appeared in mimeographed copies of Speer’s 1944 Fancyclopedia and Tucker’s 1956 Neofan’s Guide.
Jack Speer originally called them quasi-quotemarks:
It frequently is impossible or inconvenient to quote a speaker’s exact word, and not vital to do so. In such a case, you may merely give the substance of what he said, and in place of quotation mark, use quote-marks with a hyphen under each “like this“ instead of qualifying the quotation with a clumsy phrase like “or words to that effect”. Such quasi-quotemarks indicate that you will be answerable for the substantial meaning and implications of the quotation, but either do not have the exact wording available, or have rearranged the construction and wording of the original statement to fit conveniently into your sentence structure. Examples: “but, ‘Every intensely active fan I know of is some kind of disgusting character‘, says Miske.” “He said he ‘had just been too busy“.” (In the first example, Miske’s wording was, “I know of no fan who ranks as ‘intensely active’ who is not some sort of disgusting character.” In the second, “have” in the original has been changed to “had“).
Author Keith Houston agreed they are useful —
They certainly have a neatly unambiguous function that is not already fulfilled by any other mark of punctuation; writers have been paraphrasing quotations since time immemorial, but either they do not trouble to tell their readers or they signpost their words with exculpatory statements such as “in other words”, or “words to that effect”. And unlike some novel marks of punctuation… the quasiquote is not offensively weird to the eye.
As for myself, I was surprised to discover that what had become a secondary use of quasiquotes by the time I encountered them was once their exclusive purpose. By 1970 they had evolved into something besides an “honest summary.”
I first saw them used in LASFS’ Apa-L, where quasiquotes were often presented as a satirical de-coding of a person’s real meaning. A writer used quasiquotes when mockingly putting words in someone else’s mouth that were more candid but less socially acceptable than what he or she had written, usually done in a kidding manner. I’m now wondering if that innovation was unique to LASFS or spread throughout fandom.
As further explanation I’m tempted to compare how quasiquotes were used in Apa-L with the internet’s “Fixed That For You,” however, online sources don’t all agree what that expression means. It’s at moments like this telepathy would be convenient.