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Friday, April 9, 2010

People often "misuse" quotation marks (in fact, there are entire websites devoted to these charming snafus. What I want to know is, in the first ad below, is that a deliberate use of quotes, or is this widow lady about to get a lot of unexpectedly sleazy replies to her request?

Personal - A widow lady, age 30, wishes to make the acquaintance of an "unmarried" middle-aged gentleman of means; one who has been accustomed to refined lady's society. D 59, Tribune.

Personal - A young man of 35, "as good as gold," desires the acquaintance of a social, pleasant lady of means. C 22, Tribune office.

Hmm. Neither of these ads say anything about matrimony, and both want to meet people with money, which is generally a great big red flag. I don't use this newspaper frequently, however, so I don't know whether or not in these ads the "object, matrimony" is a given. I suspect not. I have a feeling that they're exactly what they look like, which is two people who are very interested in finding a sugar daddy or mama.

So, "unmarried"? Deliberate or not? "Unmarried" was a widely used word back then (whereas the abbreviation "ad," and the word "personals" were always, always written in quotes in the 19th century, as words which have only recently entered the lingo often are). But I also don't know if people used quotation marks as scare quotes back then (i.e., indicating that the word quoted does not mean its literal use, and often means the exact opposite). And besides, if she's hinting that she really wants to meet a married man but puts "unmarried" in the quotes as a way to appear legit, it's not very subtle. Either way, I think she might get a lot of answers from men who are very, very married.

The other ad is much different but I thought it was kind of funny to see two such similarly written requests right next to each other. "Good as gold" is of course a much different use of quotation marks (as in, he's actually quoting something), but I think the end goal is the same. I wonder that he calls himself a young man of 35. I'm about to hit 33 so no one should take this as an affront, but 35, while not old, is not young - especially back then. 35 was quite literally middle-aged since the average life span for a man at the time this was written was probably around 65-70. I suppose it was possibly a typo, but if so, he was probably furious. I seriously doubt any "young man" (see? Perfect use of scare quotes) of 35 is going to find many women who want to set him up as their boy toy.

Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge!

©2010 Pam Epstein


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