Here is a quote, in written form, of something spoken by David Foster Wallace:

The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn't do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life's assets and debits do not square.


It bothers me that the above written quotation includes the word 'quote'. It just seems silly. If Foster's words were from a prepared script, the script would have been:

The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn't do so out of ‘hopelessness’...

Is it acceptable for someone transcribing such a speech to do the same thing and just convert a verbalized 'quote' back to written quotation marks? After all, we include commas and periods in written quotes of speech even if they are not explicitly verbalized.

  • What if a politician says: 'Blah, blah, blah, period, period, period."? – michael.hor257k May 19 '17 at 8:07

The sentence you quote, including

doesn't do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction

is a quotation p. 696 (paperback edition) of David Foster Wallace's book Infinite Jest, which is a novel.

Whether he ever spoke these words in a preview or presentation of the book, I don't know. DFW is a careful writer and sometime teacher of English grammar and composition classes and I'd be more inclined to try to learn from him than to claim that he or his editors made an error.

On the more general topic of transcripts of spoken words, a search on Google for "transcription services" might provide some insight.

Many proceedings or events are transcribed, from speeches and interviews to court trials. One such service transcribes everything but what it calls "filler words" (uhh and umm); it will do filler words as well if the client requests. Presumably there are situations (e.g., police interviews, grand jury proceedings) where "filler words" may convey hesitation or uncertainty and should therefore be part of the record. In any case the overall objective is to provide in the transcript what the listeners heard.

Some transcription services are qualified (or have qualified staff) for transcribing conversations or dictation that includes confidential matters relating to health.

Some transcriptions (e.g., oral history interviews) are edited and checked for accuracy by both the interviewers and the interviewees; mistaken statements may be changed or footnoted. Statements that aren't properly punctuated and thus will mislead readers are corrected. It all depends on the purpose the transcribed record will serve and how much time and effort (and money) it's worthwhile putting into it. Often the original audio as well as the transcript is availble; sometimes the audio is not.

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