By elimination, dishonesty is the second-best policy. -George Carlin
Question #92718 posted on 10/23/2019 8:42 p.m.

Dear 100 Hour Board,

I've come with a question from my husband that I'm not sure how to Google- so help me, omniscient Board! You know when President Monson would read stories or poems, and he'd always start with "I quote" or "quote" and then he'd always end with "close quote"? He feels like we hear that all the time in church talks, and in church talks only. In other contexts, I think people just continue speaking, with the assumption that we know the quote has ended. Also, it's hard to google because "Close quote" doesn't end up in the text of talks.

so: Is this a unique cultural phenomenon? Or is this more normal than he thinks?
Why does this happen? And did President Monson start it?

-Asul Ateh


Dear friend,

Fozzie has a great answer to your question. I just wanted to second what she said about debate - I also used "close quote" in debate all the time. For me it was about making sure the judges/my opponents could distinguish the quote/evidence from my words. There's a few different ways to do this without saying "close quote", such as voice inflections, but that can be tricky to do perfectly when you're speeding through your argument and that timer keeps ticking down. I suspect that certain speakers either got used to saying "close quote," or felt General Conference was a professional enough setting to use it, and that's why we had/have certain speakers who still say it.

-guppy of doom


Dear Asul Ateh,

The sources I found date the origins of "quote-unquote" back to the beginning of the 20th century. "Quote-unquote" has been in the Oxford English Dictionary for about 100 years and their first example of this comes from a December 1918 article in the Bridgeport Telegram: "Title of picture to be quote Watchful Waiting unquote." 

This origin time period makes sense because it is after the invention of the telegraph, which was 1844. Since telegraph messages were sent through Morse code, you couldn't use symbols like quotation marks or periods. For example, they would message "STOP" instead of a period. So someone might use "quote-unquote" in a telegraph to signal that they are quoting someone/thing. However, today in Morse code, there is a set of dots and dashes that mean 'period' or 'quotation marks.' The other place that this was used originally was in dictation, where the speaker would warn the person writing that they were starting a quote.

I couldn't find a lot of exact history on this but a lot of historians and English professors believe that these conventions then bled into people actually saying “quote-unquote” to emphasize the fact that they're quoting someone or it is used like verbal air quotes to be a little snarky. Some people also say "close quote" or "end quote."

People today still use the "quote-unquote" in certain contexts. Some of those places where I've seen it used are journalism and debate. With journalism, TV reporters often use this to make it clear that they are quoting the person verbatim. It also makes the news more dramatic. 

When I did debate team in high school, we would use "quote-unquote." But they also use it in real political debates. Either the moderator will ask the candidate a question based on their own exact words or other candidates will say "quote-unquote" to use a candidate's words against them.

"Quote-unquote" is definitely more common in specific communities or settings, like general conference. People do say it still, it's just not generally popular.

Maybe people should start saying it more. I think we would all sound more formal and sassy. Both good things.