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Sometimes I need to adjust a quote for whatever reason. I don't want to steal somebody else's words, so I want to quote, but if it's no longer their exact words, wrapping it in "" doesn't feel right to me.

For example, I just altered

if I couldn’t do it within 10 minutes, I couldn’t do it at all

To squeeze it into a tweet. I wound up changing it slightly to

If I couldn’t do it in 10 min, I couldn’t do it at all

I wrapped it in ~~ to try to show that it's not a direct quote, but wonder; is there a way to 'almost' quote somebody?

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The question isn't clear. You are using someone's direct words but changing them for space constrictions. What do you mean by saying you "don't want to steal someone else's words" when you do want to quote what they said? –  Andrew Leach Jun 4 '12 at 15:18
    
@AndrewLeach - I mean that I don't want to imply these are my words or thoughts. Especially if it's something insightful, the credit is not mine. KWIM? –  John MacIntyre Jun 4 '12 at 15:23
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Do you state anywhere who actually wrote the words? (Can't tell from your question.) –  JLG Jun 4 '12 at 15:32
    
@JLG - I included a link to the article I lifted it from. ... so, no, but I think that qualifies. :-) –  John MacIntyre Jun 4 '12 at 17:38

3 Answers 3

There is no generally-recognised punctuation to mean "this is a close but not exact quote". The standard way of indicating this is...

To paraphrase Churchill, never have so many paid so little for so much.

...which clearly won't help OP, since it would take more characters to indicate what he's doing than would be saved.

There is a convention that you can replace part of a quote by some semantically-equivalent text in [square brackets] - for various reasons, including space-saving. So in this case OP could write...

"If I couldn’t do it [quickly], I couldn’t do it at all".

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Newspapers and news sites do this all the time, certainly not always for space considerations; I agree that it's well established. That being said, there are many times when news sites use it in an incredibly irritating and frustrating way: I can tell that they changed something, but it's killing me trying to figure out exactly what. –  MT_Head Jun 4 '12 at 16:10
    
@MT_Head: Oftentimes the "inexact quote" is actually longer than the original. The original often includes pronouns with obvious referents in context; without that context, the full noun form may be necessary. Even when the quoted text is shorter, this is more likely to be for the sake of clarity rather than to save column inches, I feel. –  FumbleFingers Jun 4 '12 at 16:17
    
I get that, and I certainly understand about inserting referents to make quotes more understandable, but there are lots and lots of cases where a referent already existed (outside of the square brackets) and you're left with the nagging feeling that something has been changed - but what? I can't think of an example at the moment, but if one comes up while I still remember this page, I'll come back and post it so you can see what I mean. And then it will haunt you, too. Muahahahahaha! –  MT_Head Jun 4 '12 at 17:37
    
@MT_Head: I'm sure you meant "Muaha[haha]haha!", which by our established convention here could represent an arbitrarily long "hahahaha..." (i.e. - the villainous chortling could still be going on). If you're gonna haunt, you gotta keep it up a long time or it doesn't count! –  FumbleFingers Jun 4 '12 at 20:02
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Ooo[ooo]ooh! Good one! –  MT_Head Jun 4 '12 at 21:35

There are two common methods for handling alterations to a quote, depending on the nature of the alteration.

For omissions, the most common practice is to insert an ellipsis . . . in place of the omitted words or phrase. For alterations, such as to preserve grammatical flow in the context of a paragraph, to work around an omission, or to add explanatory or clarifying text, placing the new or changed language [in square brackets] is the standard.

That said, in the context of a tweet, if you're talking about committing a grammatical sin on somebody's behalf to fit within a 140 character limit, as in your example, I'm inclined to simply say: relax. It's not that big a deal, and changing 'within' to 'in' is hardly misquoting someone to the degree that it requires any consultation of a style guide.

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" relax. It's not that big a deal" - Agreed. But this keeps coming up, and I've often wondered about it. Thanks. +1 –  John MacIntyre Jun 4 '12 at 17:39

Ditto LessPop_MoreFizz.

In your example, you could write "If I couldn’t do it [in] 10 min, I couldn’t do it at all."

It's common to add very brief elaborations in brackets, like "Before being elected president, he [Theodore Roosevelt] served as", etc.

You can always reword broadly just by removing the quotes. Instead of writing

Bob said, "If I couldn’t do it within 10 min, I couldn’t do it at all."

You could write

Bob said that if he couldn't do it in 10 min he couldn't do it at all.

Then you're giving proper credit without indicating that it's an exact quote.

Frankly, the example you give is not the best. You're saving 4 characters. Any punctuation or explanation you give will likely take at least a couple of characters, so the savings ends up being minimal. I suppose in a tweet the size limit is so tight that you're in a bind. Conventional English rules for handling quotations and variations thereof really just weren't invented to work within that limitation. Maybe we'll have to invent something.

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Regarding brief elaborations, I'd say that (parentheses) are more common, brackets indicating paraphrasis. It might be a local thing (Australia), but the other answers to the question suggest it holds globally. –  wyatt Jun 4 '12 at 23:56

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