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.

10 thoughts on “Quasiquotes

  1. I’ve been quite familiar with quasi-quotes from my earliest fannish days, and wish they were more easily available to use online. But I’d always seen them used with sincere attempts to paraphrase as closely as possible, not with the sarcastic intent you mention. So that may have been a local thing.

  2. I don’t know how you would make a quasi-quote character in a text document, but looking at the HTML source for this page, I see that the ones above are created by embedding real-quote characters (fancy “smart” quotes in this case) inside an HTML “span” element, with the attribute
    style=”text-decoration: line-through;”

    If WordPress renders HTML in comments
    (This will look ugly to anyone getting this comment in a non-HTML email message):
    <span style=”text-decoration: line-through”>”</span>

  3. Well, that didn’t work the way I intended, because WordPress stripped out the span directive I tried to insert, but you get the idea.
    There doesn’t seem to be an actual quasiquote character in Unicode, or in any character set I’m familiar with.

  4. Shady Characters placed a quotemark between the codes del and /del (inside carats <>) to produce — hacked-together quasiquotes.

  5. I have wanted a way to use quasi-quotation marks in electronic writing for years. The HTML solution above will be very useful, thank you, Mike. Unfortunately there’s still no way to do it in ASCII text.

  6. In ASCII text, I use -” and “- as quasi-quotes:
    He said, -“What a fugghead (deleted) is.”-

    I don’t think I invented this — I’m fairly sure that I’ve seen others use it.

  7. I don’t remember the use of quasi-quotes during my heavy fanzine-reading days of the 1970s and early 80s. But I do remember the practice of striking out a phrase with a slash mark, while leaving it still readable. It’s the equivalent of when comedians pretend that something they say is a mistake, but reflective of their true feelings, such as “Good evening, fellow criminals, I mean comedians”. I don’t know how to show the typed version without an IBM Selectric handy. Did it have a name?

  8. I’ve seen them called several things. Harry Warner, Jr. in All Our Yesterdays called them strikeovers:

    The use of the slash or hyphen as a strikeover to partially obscure words for humorous effect (e.g., “I loathe love Joe Fann”) is something that seems pretty much confined to fandom. It is the fanzine equivalent of the humorous aside of stage convention, something that the writer pretends to have decided that he shouldn’t have said, but doesn’t try to conceal thoroughly. Lee Perri used it as early as 1941, when she took the time to write a postal card declining Art Widner’s mock offer of marriage.

    As you say, on a mimeograph stencil (or anything else produced with a typewriter) it was done by striking over the word(s) with the slash key (/). Which explains why I also saw this called a “slashthrough.”

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