Wikipedia:Logical quotation on Wikipedia
This page is an essay on the Wikipedia Manual of Style section on quotation marks.
|This page in a nutshell: Logical and typesetters' quotation styles are not "British" vs. "American", and their use on Wikipedia is not a WP:ENGVAR matter. Using logical quotation in articles in American English is not "bad grammar", but supported by major journals, and increasing in use in the general populace. Typesetters' quotation is a loose, ambiguous style common in fiction and journalism and is not suited to encyclopedic writing. Wikipedia uses logical quotation – do not add punctuation that is not part of the original quotation – by consensus, because it is accurate.|
There is a common misconception that logical quotation (LQ) is "British style" and that typesetters' quotation (TQ, also known as printers' quotation among other names) is "American style" (despite having originated in England, and being as common in Canada as in the US). This error of overgeneralization is often promoted by published style guidelines, out of ignorance, a wish to "keep it simple", and/or even an attempt to add illusory strength to the failing position that punctuation is a nationalistic matter (this, after all, certainly helps to sell grammar books and to entrench and patrioticize views on grammar, which in turn sells yet more grammar books). There are differences between logical quotation and conventional British punctuation in mass-market publications, many of which do not agree with one another. Wikipedia itself has been criticized in the British press for asserting that LQ is British.
Neither style is consistently used in the US or the UK. Erroneous partisanship is generally detrimental to understanding logical quotation, typesetters' quotation, their contexts, and the preference of Wikipedia and of an increasing number of other academic publications for logical quotation on, well, logical grounds, not nationality of editors, readership, or subjects. Wikipedia uses logical quotation because it is in keeping with the principle of minimal change to quoted material. This principle is not unique to Wikipedia, but mirrored in most style guides (even if it necessarily becomes confused and self-contradictory in those that continue to recommend TQ). The MHRA Style Guide sums it up well that with quotations, "follow the original for spelling, capitalization, italics, and punctuation". That's what makes them quotations, not paraphrases.
- 1 Logical quotation is not British; Commonwealth styles vary
- 2 Typesetters' quotation is not American – British, etc. journalism and fiction often use it, too
- 3 Some American (and other) journals have long required logical quotation
- 4 The two quotation styles are functionally, not regionally different
- 5 Proponents of typesetters' quotation admit it makes no sense
- 6 Logical quotation is precise; typesetters' often falsifies quoted material
- 7 Style guides are in flux, and even American ones recommend logical quotation for precision
- 8 The "aesthetic story", and traditional inertia's erosion under modern pressure
- 9 Technical considerations
- 10 Journalism style is not encyclopedic style
- 11 Wikipedia is not bound by external style guides, anyway
- 12 Logical quotation simply makes sense, no zealotry required
- 13 See also
Logical quotation is not British; Commonwealth styles vary
Logical quotation style and the quotation styles used in many British publications (and others that follow their style guides) are often actually different, based on different rationales. In particular, British usages (yes, they are plural) tend to put punctuation outside of quotations even when it does belong there logically. The Guardian Style Guide, for example, says "Place full points and commas inside the quotes for a complete quoted sentence; otherwise the point comes outside." This is not the same as logical quotation at all (which is not concerned with sentence structure, but with literalness), and is little better than TQ's opposite insistence on always putting the punctuation inside. In fact, The Guardian often ends up with copy that is identical to common American practice. This is because the newspaper, and various other British Commonwealth ones, avoid inserting punctuation where there was none in the original, but will readily swap a comma for a period (point): "The MP said 'He's a prat,' in reference to Lord Spottswoode." Here the comma after "prat" is inside the terminal quotation mark because it is standing in for the original period (and TQ would do it this way simply because it always puts commas inside). This is invalid in logical punctuation because it is a falsification of the literal quotation. The Economist simply says "The British convention is to place such punctuation according to sense." Guardian editor David Marsh quips that this "makes sense, until you think about it, and realise it is meaningless." To stir the UK pot further, The Daily Telegraph has a different rationale entirely, calling for quotations that follow a colon to have internal punctuation, and those without a colon having external punctuation (in effect, this usually mirrors Guardian style, since colons are normally only used to introduce quotations when they are full sentences).
All of this further erodes the notion that logical quotation is used on Wikipedia as some kind of bone thrown to British Wikipedians. Logical quotation is its own style, as required by various journals, and documented in style guides for more than 100 years. It coincidentally happens to be very similar to non-North-American style as used by most publishers, but there are differences especially in the "rules" applied, even if they often result in the same output.
Typesetters' quotation is not American – British, etc. journalism and fiction often use it, too
Here's one example, out of literally millions, of British professional journalism using typesetters' quotation, from a BBC News article on the death of a Hiberno-British sports figure: "'Len did a terrific amount for charity,' he said." Note "...charity,'" versus. the supposedly expected version: "...charity'," which is claimed to be the British style by the proponents of TQ as "American style". There are several other examples in that same piece.
Innumerable cases like this are also found in Irish, South African, Australian, and other non-North American, English-language publications. This proves that TQ is not "American" despite being more common in North America. It is simply common in informal, journalistic prose (and in fiction publishing, for dialogue). At least one of the major newspaper style guides in the UK actually recommends TQ. For the short term, two of the most influential are unavailable online right now, and it is believed to be one of the two, thus no citation yet. In the interim, The Guardian's and BBC News's online versions have been consulted and do not even address the issue (though we already know that the BBC uses TQ regularly), suggesting that the TQ/LQ distinction is not considered very important in non-US journalism, even though it certainly should be, for accuracy.
Some American (and other) journals have long required logical quotation
Meanwhile, a North American business journal, Entrepreneurial Practice Review at Ryerson University in Canada, insists on logical quotation. This is proof that it is not just used in the sciences, and proof that it is not exclusively British, nor even non-North American, and thus it is further evidence this is not a WP:ENGVAR issue. Contrary to common TQ proponents, Canadian journalism and fiction use TQ just as often as US ones, another hole in the "TQ is American style and LQ is British Commonwealth style" argument, as Canada is part of the Commonwealth and their dialect retains many Briticisms (or, rather, eschews many Americanisms).
The ABA Journal (that's the American Bar Association) long accepted LQ. See the details in the reader letter cited, by the way, showing that the US legal profession's own main style guide was actually inconsistent on the matter in its recommendation of TQ. The ABA itself explicitly stated "We still prefer the logical system of punctuation" in the previous issue. And this happened all the way back in 1951. This is huge, because after journalism, the American profession generally most "addicted" to the Chicago Manual of Style is the legal one, and the CMS itself bends over backwards to cater to legal writing (see in particular the CMS's US-law-biased and internally inconsistent outline numbering style, as discussed at Outline (summary)). Yet here is the premier US law journal bucking the Chicago typographic system in the 1950s and adopting logical quotation for exactly the same rationale as Wikipedia: LQ style produces more precise quotations. (The ABA eventually adopted TQ, because the US courts started mandating precise document formatting requirements, and they mostly based their standards on the GPO Style Manual which is all TQ, all the time.)
The idea of logical quotation (and even the term itself) being some kind of neologistic imposition is absurd. The term actually goes back at least as far as H. W. & F. G. Fowler's The King's English (1906), used again in H. W.'s original 1926 edition of Modern English Usage. Contrary to various punditry, MEU is well-regarded in the US, and any serious American writer or editor has a current revised edition along with American-published counterparts, like Chicago. Here's an example of The New York Times relying on Fowler in their own in-house stylebook.
Meanwhile, the British-published Journal of Irish and Scottish Studies of the University of Aberdeen says this in their style guide: "Punctuation marks are placed inside the quotation marks only if the sense of the punctuation is part of the quotation; this system is referred to as logical quotation." Note that they not only explain how it is to be done, which would seem unnecessary if LQ "is" "British", they call it "logical quotation" not "British quotation". The ISS simply explains why things are quoted the way they are, from the same reasoned encyclopedic viewpoint as Wikipedia. As we will see below, even TQ proponents actually follow this reasoning, half of the time (and the rest of the time admit that their system is illogical). The Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society more succinctly yet says: "Within a quotation use the spelling and punctuation of the original.... If omitting material from a quotation, use three ellipsis points". The style is not labelled, but it says nothing at all about "Australian" or "British" or "American" style, despite accepting contributions from writers internationally, like other academic journals. They assume academic writers know better, and that American academics in particular know that even if they personally prefer TQ, as many American editors do, that it isn't a logical system and is not acceptable in academic publishing, only journalism and fiction, outside the US, and decreasingly within. The European Union Style Guide (Revised 5th Ed., 2009), Section 2.31, clearly recommends LQ (without bothering to name it). So, it's obviously not British style. It's not even non-American style, since some American journals have favored it for over half a century at least. If we consult a British example, the Modern Humanities Research Association Style Guide, it turns out to be the most concise yet, advising, "[i]n quoted passages follow the original for spelling, capitalization, italics, and punctuation". That this simply makes sense is so obvious they didn't feel it needed elaboration of any kind.
But back to American sources. The "smoking gun", as it were, would have to be a professionally produced academic journal from a notable US-based organization that is not a hardcore techie or science rag but a liberal arts, soft-science group, requiring logical quotation, despite such organizations more often being the allies of Chicago, Johnson, and TQ. Oh, okay, that took about five minutes to find: The Linguistic Society of America (founded 1924), the main professional society for American language scholars, and the publisher of Language, the pre-eminent linguistics publication in the world. The journal uses LQ, as does the organization's website, and all their other publications. On quotation formatting, the journal's style guide says "The second member of a pair of quotation marks should precede any other adjacent mark of punctuation, unless the other mark is a necessary part of the quoted matter: The word means 'cart', not 'horse'. He asked, 'What can we hypothesize about this example?'" And realize that this is an organization devoted to language preservation, one that publishes policy statements like "The Need for the Documentation of Linguistic Diversity". This makes one necessarily skeptical of the claim that promotion of LQ is somehow an attack on US language values and the integrity of American English.
The two quotation styles are functionally, not regionally different
Isn't it, even aside from all the other evidence presented above and below, just a bit more reasonable to consider that LQ and TQ are not "proper British" and "correct American" style, respectively, like vivir is correct Spanish while to live is correct English, but rather that the two quotation styles are functionally different, and have been recognized as such for around a century now, since Fowler & Fowler? It becomes clearer and clearer that the (declining but still notable) US predilection for TQ even when it makes no sense is only explicable as simple tradition and status-quo inertia, arising from America having incidentally been the region where TQ got started. TQ is simply a habit. LQ is a logical system.
Proponents of typesetters' quotation admit it makes no sense
By way of some pro-TQ contrast, see The Washington Square Press Handbook of Good English by Edward D. Johnson (1920, and still in print with misc. revisions) for positive but, in the Wikipedia context, quite damning views on TQ (strong emphasis added in several places, since this block quotation is long, and uses a lot of italics for words-as-words):
"I have to go home now," he said. The attribution has been moved to the end of the sentence, and the quotation is separated from the attribution by a comma, as required by Rule 2-11. But why is the comma inside the closing quotation mark? Certainly the comma is not part of the quotation; the speaker naturally ended his sentence with a period. The answer has nothing to do with logic. In the days of handset type—so the story goes—printers discovered that a period or comma hanging out at the end of a sentence after a quotation mark was easily knocked awry, and they solved the problem by putting the period or comma within the closing quotation mark regardless of logic. Now this arbitrary positioning of the quotation mark is the universal American convention. For some reason, an apostrophe at the end of a sentence was permitted to stay inside the period, perhaps because apostrophes were considered part of the spelling of words and inseparable from them.
I'm not sure what is meant by "fail-safe". This is logical punctuation since fail-safe is just an isolated term, not a statement or question; only the complete sentence deserves a period. Nevertheless, it is wrong; it should be I'm not sure what is meant by "fail-safe." It isn't logical, it's just the way it is. Commas and periods always go within closing quotation marks.
[...] He keeps using the word "fail-safe"; I'm not sure what it means has the semicolon after the closing quotation mark; He gave me a definition of "fail-safe": a system of safeguards that hasn't failed yet has the colon after the closing quotation mark. This is logical, since the semicolon and colon are punctuation for their respective sentences, not for the quotations within the sentences;...there is no more quotation to connect or introduce.
Johnson's influential and still-oft-cited piece is the probable main inspiration for TQ's continued (though increasingly qualified) support in so many American style guides like Chicago. Why this all matters for Wikipedia purposes, with regard to Johnson and the later guides that picked up his advice and ran with it on most American English points of grammar:
- The assertions that typesetters' quotation "is" necessarily "correct", and is the only thing that is correct, in American English, "universally", are flatly incorrect, as shown by citations provided above and below, e.g. to major US-based publications preferring logical quotation, and an American English professor showing that TQ is declining. Just from one afternoon's Googling around. This, in addition to common British journalistic usage of TQ instead of LQ deflates any argument that TQ vs. LQ is a varieties-of-English issue, no matter how much pundits like Johnson have tried to cast it as one, and despite common belief, repeated in various style guides, that one is "British" and the other "American". That idea is now conclusively shown to be a myth. American language usage writer David Nichol at the well-read Daily Writing Tips, who is vehemently opposed to LQ in American English (except when admitting, darn, that it sometimes does have to be used; see below) concedes: "This [LQ] system is quite common, of course, even in formal publications."
- The entire Johnson passage is really just multiple blatant admissions that TQ is illogical. That in itself is enough to simply ignore TQ on Wikipedia, for the same reason we would ignore calling the sky "green" just because some books by some people with opinions to express said we should call it green. Per WP:Five pillars, we are here to build an encyclopedia for the world, not bow to irrational pronouncements by would-be grammar dictators from another medium and another time, who admit that their own arguments don't make sense.
- Johnson's "rules" (and consequently those of Chicago and other US style guides) are worse than inconsistent, but blatantly self-contradictory: They assert that colons and semicolons go outside the quotations because they are not part of the quotation, but reverse this reasoning with regard to commas and terminal punctuation. Nichol at Daily Writing Tips further concedes that TQ is not just contradictory, it's actually leaning toward LQ anyway: "[T]he traditional American system is inconsistent: Place commas and periods inside quotation marks, but semicolons and colons go outside. Em dashes, question marks, and exclamation points go inside or outside depending on whether they're part of the context of the quoted material (shades of logical punctuation)."
- Perhaps most importantly, it explains that typesetters' punctuation is (so far as we know, but see below for the "aesthetic story") a convention of, well, typesetters. TQ is thus of no relevance to an online encyclopedia, and per WP:NOT#PAPER Wikipedia can happily just ignore it. We could actually do that anyway, per the WP:Ignore all rules policy.
- Furthermore, reliance on a source whose backing simply boils down to "it's just the way it is", as a reliable reference for one's own on-wiki opinion that "it's just the way it is", is tautological and fallacious, and an obvious case of WP:ILIKEIT, an argument type that Wikipedians have long rejected as inapplicable here.
- It all avoids the issue. Johnson wrote only about American English, and simply never noticed (or never cared to comment) on the fact that TQ isn't just illogical, but results in misrepresentation, misquotation, and confusion as to what the original source actually said/read. Nichol also dodges and passes, albeit a bit more explicitly, by suggesting that American writers simply follow American style guides and British and Commonwealth writers follow British, as if that magically solved everything. He concludes that TQ "while imperfect, works perfectly well if you follow a few simple rules." But it clearly doesn't. It works perfectly well, most of the time, for novels and comic books and high school essays, but it quietly fails in journalism, to the frequent misrepresentation of quoted interviewees, and fails dismally and obviously in technical, scientific, and encyclopedic works, where precision is crucial.
Logical quotation is precise; typesetters' often falsifies quoted material
The vast majority of computer and other technical manuals in English are produced in the United States, and the vast majority of them, again, use LQ, or where they insist on TQ are very careful to avoid any construction that can be ambiguous because of the quotation style (a prose issue about which Wikipedians generally are not careful, when they're even aware of it at all). The core issue is that the incorrect conveyance of string literals can be confusing and have negative consequences. Consider the following, using TQ: "To delete a file in Unix, use 'rm.'" It is entirely ambiguous under TQ whether the period (dot, full stop, full point, whatever one wants to call ".") after "rm" is part of the command, and with the period the command does not work. For a real-world example of how seriously this is taken in technical writing circles, see a bug report about the Ubuntu Linux manual having a stray case of TQ, and it is being fixed to LQ format.
What some Wikipedians (and many, especially but not exclusively American, journalism and book editors) have failed to understand is that direct quotations are in fact string literals. They are not computer variables or chemistry formulas, but they nonetheless require precision, accuracy and lack of ambiguity to serve their intended purpose and to not mislead readers or misrepresent the truth. Encyclopedia writing is, emphatically, a form of technical writing; to borrow from legal scholar Ronald B. Standler, it is, like legal writing, "a type of scholarly writing by an educated person", to which general guidelines for technical and essay writing (as contrasted with journalism, editorializing, PR and fiction) necessarily apply. See also the following statement in a post on a language blog of observations on British and American English by an American linguist in the UK: "Other things that make some (uses of) language arguably better than others are consistency within the system (e.g. in spelling) and avoidance of ambiguity." The piece never even mentions quotation style, but it says in a nutshell what the MOS exists for in our project.
Style guides are in flux, and even American ones recommend logical quotation for precision
US style guides, when they agree at all, are constantly in flux, and cannot be treated like holy books. See for example this article on sweeping changes to the The New York Times stylebook. The Chicago guide is seeing a new edition every few years now, with major changes. Here's another piece on the AP Stylebook changing so frequently (often in ways that conflict with most other style guides, e.g. encouraging the spelling email over e-mail) that updates about it are posted on Facebook and Twitter, with 80,000 journalists and other writers following the posts in an attempt to keep up. The Generalized Stylebook of the Tameri Guide for Writers, which generally promotes AP style, also warns "Do not assume AP style is appropriate for academic writing — it isn't." (Hint: encyclopedia writing is, emphatically, a form of academic writing. And Tameri further propounds "never alter a quote".) Similar flux and conflict is happening in the sphere of non-American stylebooks, too. There is no united, or even stationary, authority on English style, nor on American or British English style specifically. Everything is a moving target. Singling out one traditional "rule" and attempting to freeze it in time is an absurdist exercise.
And what of this "rule"? Even prescriptive-grammarian proponents of TQ admit that exceptions have to be made when using it, indicating that it is flawed, meanwhile exceptions never have to be made for logical quotation. The Chicago Manual of Style (surely the #1 reason that TQ even still exists) says – since at least the 15th edition, and continuing in the 17th (current as of 2018)[update] – not to use TQ for things like examples of computer commands, and even itself documents LQ as an "alternative system". Please re-read that sentence. Nichol, the anti-LQ American grammarian, acknowledges that LQ has to be used sometimes, and gives cases "such as precisely framing philosophical or etymological terms by excluding punctuation that is part of the general narrative". He blissfully misses or not very craftily dodges the obvious point that all punctuation that is not part of the literal original written quote, or part of the sense of the original spoken quote, is in fact just "part of the general narrative" rather than part of the "precisely fram[ed]" quotation. And thanks to that writer for providing strength to the pro-LQ rationale at Wikipedia, for noting accidentally that the entire purpose of quotation is "precise framing". Precision, to say it again, is the No. 1 reason for using LQ in formal, nit-picky writing like an encyclopedia.
This sort of cognitive dissonance on the part of American grammar prescriptivists is nothing new. Grant Milnor Hyde's classic 1921 Handbook for Newspaper Workers, published in London as well as New York, says on page 55 "Place final quotation marks before or after other punctuation marks in accordance with the context" but in the same section also advises the writer to "[p]lace final quotation marks after a comma, or a period, regardless of context" (emphasis in original) and gives various conflicting examples of terminal punctuation being handled both logically and illogically.
The "it's just an arbitrary rule" story: As noted above, even proponents of TQ admit that it is arbitrary. Its opponents also say so, e.g. the University of Sussex Punctuation Guide (Trask, 1997), which notes that TQ is done solely "on the theory that a closing quote should always follow another punctuation mark". I.e., it's just meaningless, which actually defeats the purpose of punctuating a particular way to begin with. LQ, by contrast, exists specifically because it does convey tightly controlled meaning. Besides, Wikipedia regularly ignores external sources' arbitrary style "rules" when they don't make sense or interfere with encyclopedic clarity. Take for example, this stylebook recommendation from The New York Times: "When an acronym serves as a proper name and exceeds four letters, capitalize only the first letter: Unesco; Unicef." Nascar was given as another example that often infuriates readers. The NYT does this for purely visual reasons (they feel that "UNESCO" stands out too much; yes, really), not because it's logical. (Sound familiar?) Wikipedia dispenses with such inconsistency, and always capitalizes NASCAR, UNESCO and other acronyms and initialisms, without periods except in rare cases (the NYT only recently dropped U.S.B. and U.R.L.) except where they have been assimilated as words, e.g. radar, laser. The simple facts of the matter are that as of the post-computer, post-Internet world, there is no such thing as an authoritative style guide for the English language. Even the most respected ones in any particular dialect disagree with one another, and they cannot keep up with actual usage. Citing them like laws is an exercise in preaching, and the Wikipedia Manual of Style does not operate on such a basis. It does what is best for the encyclopedia, including its accuracy and precision.
The "aesthetic story", and traditional inertia's erosion under modern pressure
The MLA, publishers of one of the most-used style guides for academic writing, suggests that TQ was actually developed "to improve the appearance of the text. A comma or period that follows a closing quotation mark appears to hang off by itself and creates a gap in the line (since the space over the mark combines with the following word space)." Even if this were true, as opposed to or even in addition to the "movable type bits" story preferred by Johnson, above, it's irrelevant for Wikipedia purposes, per piles of precedent like MOS:ICONS in its entirety, WP:TRADEMARK on not trying to emulate cutesy formatting of brand names, WP:ACCESS on abuse of color, MOS:IMAGE on misuse of larger-than-icon graphic, etc.: We do not do things on Wikipedia just because they "look better" to some subset of editors/readers. And it is a subset; to users of LQ around the world, TQ looks weird, as LQ does to TQ fans. There is no infallible Holy Measure of Typographic Loveliness. Roy Peter Clark, writing for the Poynter Institute, the journalism school in St. Petersburg, Florida, gently satirizes the aesthetic camp, in a 2007 tongue-in-cheek piece about British and American English: "I hate it the way [the British] leave punctuation outside quotation marks. Periods and commas look so cold and lonely out there. I think they deserve to be brought inside, comforted and embraced." As Clark tells us, in mocking his own and his American colleagues preferences (see the rest of the piece; it gets even more arch), whims like this are not the basis a reasoned system of punctuation, they're simply familiar. It's a matter of inertia, not reason.
Poynter's own poll on LQ showed only 36% of their largely American journalist and journalism student readership overwhelmingly against LQ, despite the poll being heavily skewed in favor of TQ by its wording and by providing no pro-LQ answer, only "I care not at all" and "Other"! A large number of the comments on the poll were in favor of LQ, and 41% of poll respondents clearly indicated acceptance of LQ (grudging or neutral). Counting the large 23% bloc who voted "Other", almost certainly mostly supporters of LQ (what other "Other" could there be in a binary issue?), yields a supermajority of 66% who are at least not objecting to LQ; including only half of those votes would still raise LQ to a 52.5% majority. Among journos. In the US. American reporters use TQ because their editors do it, and their editors do it because the AP Newswire does it, and AP does it simply because they like it.
TQ fandom will still insist that, regardless of logic, regardless of precision, regardless of changing usage, regardless of proof that American publications sometimes use LQ and British ones sometimes use TQ, regardless of everything discussed here, that TQ simply "is" American style, because all US style guides say so, and that's that. But this just isn't true (even if weren't a faith-based argument to authority fallacy). Take for example Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged (thoroughly American, despite "International" in its title, it was published in Cambridge, Massachusetts by G. & C. Merriam, and edited by American lexicographer Philip Babcock Gove). It says very clearly in its style guide: "13.5.1 In American usage printers usually place a period or comma inside closing quotation marks whether it belongs logically to the quoted matter or to the whole sentence or context.... But when a logical or exact distinction is desired in specialized work in which clarity is more important than usual (as in this dictionary), a period or comma can be placed outside quotation marks when it belongs not in the quoted matter but to a larger unit containing the quoted matter. The package is labeled 'Handle with Care'." Wikipedia, like Webster's Third, is patently just such a "specialized work in which clarity is more important than usual", and direct quotations are precisely the place we want "a logical or exact distinction" to be drawn. It's important to note that Webster's Third was the first truly modern and linguistic dictionary, a descriptivist not prescriptivist work. It was also completed in 1961, further proof that LQ is nothing new in American publishing or language scholarship. Nor has it aged poorly; the current 2002 edition of Webster's Third still contains this advice.
Speaking of the linguistic description vs. prescriptive grammar point of view, a May 2011 influential and controversial article in Slate by American professor of English and journalism Ben Yagoda of the University of Delaware, shows (from an editorial perspective – it's not a controlled study from a language science institute or anything) that in actual practice, hardly anyone but American professional editors and journalists enforces TQ any longer, and its use by the general American populace is on the notably rapid decline, because it's confusing and irrational (which again, are reasons enough, even if all this other evidence didn't exist, for Wikipedia to prefer LQ). While the argument can be made that text messaging and e-mail are leading to a general erosion of language skills, the article is addressing general usage, not just tweets and Facebook posts. Yagoda has been characterized as not just vehemently critical of the Internet's and other communications technology's erosive effects on language, but (in the same January 2011 piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education) outspokenly hostile about "Britishisms" entering American English! He even has a blog about it called Not One-Off Britishisms (NOOB). If Yagoda, of all people, observes a distinctly American trend toward LQ and is neither alarmed by it nor dismissive of it as just a trendy Britishism, that seems more than slightly noteworthy. Two days after publication, his Slate essay was "the most e-mailed and most read article on the whole site." Interestingly, Poynter.org's own coverage of the Yagoda piece and similar articles was originally titled "It's now OK to put commas and periods outside of quotation marks" (Jim Romenesko, May 13, 2011); the title it was published under is still the bulk of its URL, thanks to WordPress. Being a Chicago Manual of Style kind of place, Poynter changed this only two days later to "More writers are putting commas, periods outside quotation marks". But this is still a neutral statement, and the text of Romenesko's notice has a similar tone. Not quite what one would expect from a premiere United States journalism institution, if one is insisting that TQ is always American style, or surely always American journalism style, or even just always journalism style generally. TQ isn't really always anything, as we'll get to in a moment.
The real point of bringing up Yagoda here is that the pro-TQ position tries to have it both ways, and fails at both. First, a prescriptivist argument is advanced – TQ is correct, dammit, in American English and only American English, and nothing but TQ is correct in American English – in which case the obvious MOS response is that WP is free to prescribe in-house as suits its own needs, since prescription is arbitrary and contextual, not determined by "authorities" external to the context of the prescription; meanwhile all evidence points to these assertions about TQ being overstatements to begin with. But TQ boosterism simultaneously advances a descriptivist argument – WP must use TQ in US-English articles because that's just US English, and it's discriminatory against Americans to "force" LQ – in which case the MOS answer is that actual observation and description show that this is not universally the case, only in mass-market publishing, which Wikipedia is not, that it's not actually particularly American at all in mass-market publishing, and that the practice is on the decline anyway, as recognized by American linguistics and journalism institutions. Indeed, the only real evidence that TQ is particularly American are American style guides, which don't agree with one another on innumerable points, proving they are not intrinsically reliable, and which have a blatant profit motive in polarizing debate so that Americans will buy their American style guides rather than Oxford's (and a latent political motivation that dates back to Noah Webster's highly patrioticized lexicographical efforts).
Thus, and this is important, the pro-TQ argument amounts to a hyper-extension of WP:ENGVAR, to support an allegedly regional peculiarity that a) leads inevitably to misquotation and other errors, by its very nature, b) is confusing to most of the world (not just the English-speaking world; mandatory internal TQ-style punctuation of quotations is unknown in other languages), c) is not even supported by all readers and editors in the area in which it has been wishfully but falsely promoted as "universal", d) is deprecated in technical and legal and sometimes even journalistic writing by the very Americans and Canadians who would normally use it (and WP is technical writing), e) is admitted to be illogical and arbitrary by its own supporters, and f) isn't long for this world anyway except probably in fiction (where some believe it "scans" faster). It simply isn't worth considering any longer at Wikipedia (and it's been considered and rejected again and again, since at least 2005).
Another major problem caused by TQ, less immediately apparent than reader confusion and source misquotation, is data pollution at the machine-readable level. TQ forces incorrect data to be parsed by software that works on Wikipedia article content and makes novel use of it, due to including extraneous punctuation inside literal strings, with unpredictable types and numbers of resultant errors (probably most often incorrect search matching, but many others are possible and likely). This is not acceptable, as one of the major goals of Wikipedia and all Wikimedia Foundation projects is that the content be as reusable and repurposable in as many ways as possible. And this problem is actually worse than it seems, because the
"text," practice has crept outside of its bounds into appallingly irrational wiki-markup misuses like
'''text.''', where extraneous punctuation is put inside book titles and other italicized or boldfaced phrases, simply because confused editors think that because the forms are superficially similar, the formats must be the same. See pre-cleanup version of the WP article Quotation mark, ironically enough, for several examples fixed in 2011.
The pro-TQ view may suggest that it's all trivia anyway, and that readers can easily make out what is meant regardless of the quotation style. If this were actually true, we would not see the vast majority of the world using and recommending logical quotation or the "British" (Commonwealth English) minor variations on it, and we would not see an increased trend of its use in North America, against supposedly deeply ingrained TQ style. And we are failing as writers if we force our audience to have to work out what we're trying to tell them.
Journalism style is not encyclopedic style
As an aside, given that journalism is heavily quotation-based, yet TQ has a strong tendency to misrepresent quotations, it's clear that in fact many journalistic editors don't but certainly should care about LQ, especially given that TQ, as we know, is actually spreading from North American to other newspapers. David Marsh of The Guardian, a British paper that does not use TQ, relates that the journalists he works with are actually trained to avoid the use of partial quotations, as sloppy. American reporters certainly aren't, and are routinely browbeaten by editors to aim for as much concision as possible even at the expense of clarity (American headlines are notorious for their frequent nonsensicality). The influence of mostly-American journalistic practices on Wikipedia articles is palpable and negative. Large parts of guidelines like WP:MOS, WP:LEAD, WP:TITLE, WP:V, WP:N, WP:NPOV, WP:PEACOCK, etc. exist to re-educate incoming encyclopedists in how to not write like a newspaper editorialist (and the rest, not like a schoolchild essayist). To be fair, often snarky British sport and tabloid journalism has also had marked negative influences on encyclopedic writing here, especially in biographical articles; it's not all a Western Hemisphere flow.
Wikipedia is not bound by external style guides, anyway
Naturally, we try to honor as many of them as possible, but only up to a point. Where they conflict with each other, we have to make a decision one way or another, based on various factors, especially simplicity, clarity, and logic. We usually leave spelling and vocabulary up to WP:ENGVAR, but not deeper grammar issues, including punctuation. Where third-party stylebooks' grammar pronouncements conflict with our goals, our decision is clear: we ignore them, and promulgate our own internal rules, with Wikipedian rationales.
We use double-quotes, and single-quotes for quotations within quotations, not because they are predominantly American (though The Guardian and many other non-American publishers also use this order), or look better, or any other subjective reason. We do it because they are more easily distinguished from other punctuation like apostrophes, and this in turn aids the reader, enables better software processing of our content, makes searching easier, and makes it much easier to edit the encyclopedia, the wiki-markup of which makes heavy use of strings of single-quote/apostrophe characters for markup. We use straight rather than curly quotation marks not for "geek chic" or because of laziness, but because curly quotes interfere with search results, cannot be typed without specialized knowledge of key combinations, and lead to mismatched quotation marks after various editors have worked on a text, some using curly quotes and some not bothering, which is another readability and parseability issue. Wikipedia uses periods (stops) after everyday abbreviations like Dr. in most cases, not to be pedantic or to irritate British journalism students, but because it is clarifying and consistent.
We use logical quotation not because it is British (it isn't) but because it has a logical basis, and correctly reports the literally quoted material, reduces reader uncertainty and confusion, makes editing easier and less contentious by providing one style to follow regardless of national ties of the subject, and reduces citation errors and misquotation. Even American editors may prefer it here for its clarity, despite being far more familiar with typesetter's quotation.
Logical quotation simply makes sense, no zealotry required
In closing, if anyone needs further evidence that TQ is simply a habit, a tradition and an entrenched, emotional, faith-based position, not a logically reasoned decision, a language blog reported, after the Slate piece: "When Yagoda asked [Rosemary] Feal and Carol Saller, who manage The Chicago Manual of Style (the bible of American grammar), when they would adopt 'logical punctuation,' they tartly answered, 'How about never? Is never good for you?'" Maybe it's time for some new editors over at Chicago University Press.
PS: As for the occasional suggestion that the MOS's wording on LQ is somehow confusing, at least one site has commended it on its clarity. But if there's some way to improve it further, this can surely be done.
For a probably much-needed humor break, see this editorial by Carl Atiya Swanson at The Tangential.