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I have seen many sentences/words in quotes like ``this'' instead of "this". Here's one from K&R:

In 1983, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) established a committee whose goal was to produce ``an unambiguous and machine-independent definition of the language C'', while still retaining its spirit.

I have seen this especially more in text written about programming but in parts it means nothing special from a programming point of view.

I assume it is meant to differentiate string literals from quotations but I couldn't find anything related on the Internet and it is really hard to search about this since Google ignores most forms of punctuation.

My question: Exactly why is this done?

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The use of `, the grave accent, for a quotation mark is not part of current standard English typography. It is a "hack" that was popular in the past because the ASCII character encoding did not contain paired quotation mark characters. Unicode does contain such characters, and the standard representations of English opening quotation marks in English are Unicode U+2018 (single) and Unicode U+201C (double), paired with Unicode U+2019 and Unicode U+201D respectively.

The grave accent as a representation of an opening quotation mark is currently standard only in the context of some programming languages or markup languages (which are not "English" per se!). The only reason I can think of for why it might be a good idea to use it in an English text about programming is if the authors are trying to make it easy for the text to be read in the context of some programming language like this.

This issue is covered by the Wikipedia article on the Quotation mark.

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    ASCII has always had ' " '. Why not use it? "This" is much more common than ``this'' and “this” even today with all the Unicode support. – Ayxan Feb 8 '19 at 21:44
  • @Ayxan: In the context of a programming language, it is useful to have a way to differentiate between opening quote marks and closing quote marks. – herisson Feb 8 '19 at 21:45
  • Some fonts design ASCII 34 (") as slanted (”) and authors might consider them better paired with something the slopes the other way.One example is NSimSun, which apparently still comes with Windows 10. – Andrew Leach Feb 8 '19 at 22:20

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