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Don’t quote using “quote”

Our policy here at Sirius OutQ News is to signal a verbatim quote by using the word ‘quote’ only as an absolute last resort. It’s a mutation of the old newspaper reporter’s practice of barking copy, punctuation and all, down the phone line to the rewrite desk. It’s therefore corny and print-y; it impedes listener comprehension; and it’s miles from the conversational style we’re trying to achieve. Don’t do it.

There are several good alternatives to the word ‘quote.’ In most cases, you can just do without it. Instead, signal the quote through a tiny pause and change to a slightly higher, more stressed intonation. That’s usually all an audience needs to know it’s an exact quote. And this can work — in fact, works better — even when the quote contains a reference to ‘I’ or ‘me.’

However, in some cases, your quote will contain something controversial that you’ll want to ensure the audience doesn’t mistake for coming from your newsreader’s lips. In that case, use a verbal flag such as “in his words,” or “she described as.” Here’s an example from one of this week’s newscasts:

Transcripts of an audio recording submitted as evidence show Cuadra telling Corrigan the murder – in his words – “made me feel better inside.”

The more vivid the quote, the stronger your signal should be that it is an exact quote:

Jones’s exact words were “You’ll never get me, copper.”

Only in the most searingly hot-button of cases should it be necessary to go beyond these devices and actually use the Q-word. Even then, you should try to think of the way you might put it in conversation. For example:

After the jury was dismissed, Smith leaned over to his lawyer and said within earshot of reporters — quoting now — “I did kill her.”

And that really should be your touchstone when handling most style questions like this. Just ask yourself, “How might I express this in conversation?” It won’t be the right answer every time, but it will be right most of the time.


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