Well, I guess the (long) title says most of it. When people write "an inline quote", it would be nicer if it were “an inline quote” (see the oriented “” quotes instead of "").

Many content management solutions do that for you (like the SmartyPants plugin to WordPress, or others), which is cool, because most people won't actually take the time to type them out (or don't know how).

This is probably valid for any stackexchange site, but it makes me feel sorry to see ugly quotes on a language-related site such as ours.

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I’m a big fan of curly quotes, correctly used, and I try always to type them myself. But every automatic system I’ve met gets some cases wrong, most often things like ’tis and ’cello. These become ‘tis and ‘cello, which — like all hypercorrections — I find far more grating than the plain honest errors they replace! –  PLL Jan 17 '11 at 22:59
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5 Answers 5

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Well, to be fair, we do this for titles.

We use an approach similar to SmartyPants in style but the code is our own.

http://daringfireball.net/projects/smartypants/

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I would be wary of any automatic solution unless there were a clear way to turn it off. For example, how would you have written this request if such a system already were in place?

On a side note, I recommend just learning how to type curly quotes on your computer and always type the correct one. On my Mac it’s just option-shift-] for an apostrophe, and I have learned to type all four symbols smoothly after a bit of practice.

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I have a Mac and I type them. However, simply by browsing the EL&U site, you can check that most people don’t. –  F'x Jan 17 '11 at 7:55
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@FX_, some of us are allergic to curly quotes on the internet. –  Marthaª Jan 17 '11 at 16:27
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@Martha: I wonder why you're allergic to them, but more that anything, I wonder why specifically on the internet! Would you please expand on that? –  F'x Jan 17 '11 at 16:30
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@FX_, in my work I often have to take information sent to us in various formats - MS Word, pdf, text - and incorporate it into html documents. If the information contains curly quotes, I can't just copy and paste it; I have to hunt down every single instance of those pesky curly critters and convert them to a format that html can reliably reproduce. –  Marthaª Jan 17 '11 at 16:53
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@Marta, HTML can reliably reproduce curly quotes (either by declaring of an appropriate encoding or by using HTML entities). Some tools might be more limited than the standard itself, but you'll bump into other issues anyway (other non-ASCII characters, including en or em dashes, accented letters, etc.). Moreover, you have to consider people who copy-paste your straight quotes into their own documents, and then have to edit them for consistency into curly quotes! –  F'x Jan 17 '11 at 17:20
    
@Martha, sorry, I know a Marta with no h, and misspelt your name! –  F'x Jan 17 '11 at 19:03
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@FX: well, older browsers don’t reliably handle unicode, and using html entities requires exactly the hunt-and-replace that Martha objects to, so I’m not sure that quite answers her objection. But most modern browsers (and increasingly, other text contexts) handle unicode completely transparently now; of all the little mostly-under-the-radar bits of software/standards progress that have been made in the last few years, this is one of the ones that makes me happiest :-) –  PLL Jan 17 '11 at 22:45
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@PLL I think all browsers that don't handle Unicode have long vanished into irrelevance. There are too many people on this planet (fortunately!) who use the web in non-Latin scripts for any to survive. There are occasional snags (like no unicode support in download file names), but those are rare. –  romkyns Jan 18 '11 at 15:18
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Until typing the quote keys on my keyboard makes the preferred symbols come out automagically (which is unreliable, as noted), I'll continue to use straight quotes -- and dashes made out of two hyphens, for that matter. To me the cost of memorizing special arcane key sequences is high and the benefit is extremely low for a web site with thousands of authors, posting everything from questions to chat. I'll worry about such details for books I produce, but not here. –  Monica Cellio Dec 20 '11 at 16:18
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While arguably this feature would be nice (at least if there were some way to turn it off, as @nohat points out), I’m not sure its advantages are worth the complexity it adds.

Sure, that’s not much extra complexity. But at the moment we use a simple variant of Markdown, which is simple, well-designed, and widely used. Adding on every extra feature which would be nice dilutes these advantages, and sooner or later leads to the Homer car: alt text

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So what is bad about his car? I wish it were mine. And that miniature model is the coolest thing. +1 I agree. –  Cerberus Jan 18 '11 at 1:31
    
@Cerberus — The problem with the car is that it was designed for the Average Joe, but is completely out of his price range. –  Matt Эллен Dec 22 '11 at 10:56
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Automatic quote prettifiers cause problems. For instance, how can the prettifier distinguish between a quoted letter n (‘l’ ‘m’ ‘n’ ‘o’) and a contracted and (It’s raining cats ’n’ dogs.)? If we’re going to have a prettifier, I suggest it be one that users explicitly turn on.

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Aye, it could be nice, but ’twould be a problem for words which begin wi’ apostrophes.

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