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When reading something that has a quote in the middle of it, is it proper to say "end quote" or "unquote" to signal the end of the quote? I've heard both ways.

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    Also "close quote" especially in programming circles. This is parallel to the use of "open" and "close" parenthesis, braces, and brackets. Dec 23, 2010 at 22:25
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    Someone tell me where I got "en quote" from, which is what I have thought it was my entire life....when my 11 year old told me it was unquote, I thought that was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard. Did I have a bad instructor or something?
    – user7802
    Apr 26, 2011 at 2:24
  • @user7802 You probably got it from Lady Mondegreen: uh.edu/~mbarber/mondegreens.html
    – Greybeard
    Feb 1, 2023 at 17:42

7 Answers 7

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Both are fine and have been used for decades, as far as I know. The OED on "unquote":

intr. Used as a formula in dictation, etc.: terminate the quotation. See quote v. 4c.

1935 E. E. Cummings Let. Mar. (1969) 139 But he said that if I'd hold up publication of No Thanks for 15 days he'd kill unquote a page of Aiken.

1935, etc. [see quote v. 4c].

1969 New Yorker 11 Oct. 48/2 Then Mr. Tanks announced the last downtown stop. He said, ‘Madison Square Garden, Penn Station+et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, unquote’.

The OED on "quote (v.)":

...

[4.]c. quote ... unquote: a formula used in dictation to introduce and terminate a quotation. Freq. transf., in speech or writing, introducing and terminating words quoted (or ironically imagined to be quoted) from the speech or writing of another.

1935 E. E. Cummings Let. 3 Oct. (1969) 145 The Isful ubiquitous wasless&-shallbeless quote scrotumtightening unquote omnivorously eternal thalassa pelagas or Ocean.

1950 ‘S. Ransome’ Deadly Miss Ashley xvii. 198 She says, quote, ‘What girl wouldn't?’ unquote.

1956 Times 5 Dec. 1/5 (Advt.), Today, America, you sure are quote in the Big Time unquote.

1958 B. Hamilton Too Much of Water xi. 245 But he did have, quote, a jolly good reason for bumping off one special person, unquote.

1961 P. Ustinov Loser viii. 140 He expressed the personal opinion that the picture was quote great for America unquote.

1973 D. Robinson Rotten with Honour 8 The British…see too many people like you in London.+ East Germans, Bulgarians, and Rumanians, all of them quote diplomats unquote

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Based on my experience:

  • If accompanied by air quotes, the term is definitely unquote.

  • If it's referring to the punctuation mark, end quote is definitely correct.

  • If it directly follows the word "quote", it's unquote. (In other words, the phrase is "quote unquote", not "quote end quote".)

  • In a formal context, if you must use the words (rather than using punctuation and formatting to mark quotations), stick to end quote.

Otherwise, either term is fair game.

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  • Magnificent answer.
    – The Raven
    Apr 17, 2011 at 14:08
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This question was the source of a heated debate with a friend so some additional research had to be done. We determined that both "end quote" and "unquote" co-evolved with the telegram (1861-1901) and the Dictaphone (1881-1907). (Dates are the approximate period of evolution from early implementation of the technology to first documented use of "end quote" or "unquote" associated with the technology.) Neither term existed before these technologies.

Western Union provided these instructions to secretaries, circa 1907:

"As punctuation-marks are neither counted nor sent except on written instructions to send them, these marks may be omitted, with the exception of the period and interrogation-point. But in important telegrams, where a direct quotation is to be transmitted, the safest method is to name the marks of punctuation, including the quotation-marks, as in the following example:

Insert in mortgage on page nine, end of first paragraph, these words quote in case of default in payment of the bonds comma...retain possession of the property period end quote.

The earliest examples we could find in print were in transcripts of official government telegrams circa 1901 and all of those examples were "end quote."

The earliest examples of "unquote" in print were also in transcripts of official government telegrams circa 1910 with the notable distinction that they were all trans-Atlantic telegrams.

It seems that two standards had evolved. "End quote" was being used in domestic telegrams and "unquote" was being used by the operators of the trans-Atlantic cables. Usage of both terms were approximately equal in rarity until the mid-1930's when there was a sudden up-tick in the volume of trans-Atlantic communication of an official nature due to the war. "Unquote" suddenly became much more common although "End quote" did not become less common than it had been. The combined usage of the two terms increased dramatically with nearly all of the new instances "unquote."

As a standard in telegrams, "end quote" definitely came first but it was completely supplanted by "unquote." When punctuation was spelled out for transmission, it was transmitted as written (in words rather than symbols) Based on the practice of charging by the word, "unquote" is one word cheaper to transmit. Both widespread exposure to cable operators during the war and the one-word cost economy may have influenced the switch. By 1954, a similar manual to business users as the 1907 instruction pamphlet advises the use of "unquote."

Both terms have lived on outside of their narrow functional purpose essentially interchangeable. "Unquote" is now far more common; "end quote" is a bit of an anachronism perhaps charming for that reason.

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  • Unquote also has the major advantage of being a word which would be unlikely to appear within quoted material. If instructed to change some text to QUOTE I THINK IT SHOULD END QUOTE, should the text include or not include the word "END"? Not sure if that's the main reason, since telegrams for whatever reason show transmission breaks the same as the word "stop" [what does "HE SHOULD STOP GOING TO VISIT HER" mean?], but it would seem a logical argument in favor of "UNQUOTE".
    – supercat
    Aug 1, 2014 at 18:36
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I've heard people say "unquote" but always assumed it was a corruption of end-quote. Wiktionary backs up this assertion. A quick search of the Corpus of Conteporary American English finds 288 instances of unquote near "quote", typically in a phrase such as

He was, quote, unquote, busy.

So unquote is definitely a word that people are using.

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  • I'm not sure how I'd punctuate "quote unquote", but I'm pretty sure there shouldn't be a comma within the phrase. Perhaps "He was --quote unquote-- busy."
    – Marthaª
    Dec 23, 2010 at 8:35
  • @Martha: I copied the punctuation from the COCA. But I do like your way better. Dec 23, 2010 at 14:00
  • @Rhodri: I agree. Dec 23, 2010 at 14:01
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Both "unquote" and "end quote" are more than a century old, but "end quote" is certainly the older term for closing a verbatim quotation in situations where regular quotation marks cannot (or could not) be used.


The early days of 'unquote'

Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) dates the first print occurrence of unquote to 1915:

unquote n (1915) used orally to indicate the end of a direct quotation

An Elephind newspaper database search finds an instance of "unquote" from three years earlier. From "Funeral Ship Now Nearing the Port: It Is Possible the Body of Major Butt May Have Been Recovered," in the Richmond [Indiana] Palladium (April 25, 1912):

The ship adds this message: Confirm the names of W. H. Marriott, Mrs. A. H. Robbins, Louis M. Hoffmn, George Rosenshine, John H. Chapman, W. Carbines, ... Mrs. N McNames, Catvatas Zassilios, W. Vear (possibly Wm." T. Stead), Mary Mangen, William Sage, James Farrell, Henry D. Hansen, James Kelly, Moritz Adahl, W. D. Douglas, J. R. Rice, G. Hinckley, hospital steward, W. Butt, (unquote), (Possibly MaJ. A. W. Butt).

The use of "unquote" here seems to have been intended as an internal editing note—to end the quotation from the ship before moving on to the speculation about whether "W. Butt" was "Major A. W. Butt"—that was not intended for publication.

A Google Books search turns up an instance of unquote in a cable from October 1914 (although the cable was not published in its original form until February 1915). From a cable dated Sunday, October 11, 1914, reproduced in Charles Crane, "Mobilizing News: How the War Reports Come by Cable, and Are Distributed by the News Associations," in Scientific American (February 6, 1915):

PARIS 235 SUNDAY ADD 1255 PENNANT WHICH DROPPED SAME TIME BOMBS BORE INSCRIPTION IN GERMAN QUOTE WE HAVE TAKEN ANTWERP YOUR TURN WILL SOON COME UNQUOTE FOUR CORRECT KILLED BY BOMB TWENTY INJURED OF WHOM TWELVE WOMEN OR GIRLS SOME SERIOUSLY

Multiple instances appear in Google Books search results from 1916 forward.

From a cablegram sent by Robert Borden in Ottawa on March 29, 1916, to the British Minister of Militia and Defence in London, reproduced in Official Reports of the Debates of the House of Commons of the Dominion of Canada (March 30, 1916):

On June nineteenth last a contract was made between the Shell Committee and this company [the American Ammunition Company] for the purchase of two million five hundred thousand fuses. It was signed by E. B. Cadwell as president of company, by General Bertram for Shell Committee and ratified and confirmed by General Hughes quote in accordance with authority duly conferred upon me by His Britannic Majesty's Government unquote.

From a series of telegrams sent or received by Adjutant General Hall in 1916, reprinted in Biennial Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Nebraska for 1915–1916 (1916):

Chicago, Ill., June 25, 1916. ... Following telegram repeated for your information and guidance quote commanding general Central Department. Grave necessity for additional troops on border. Various requests are being made to delay movement of state organizations until the larger tactical units are organized at state camps. Organization of these units will be perfected on border. Meanwhile secretary war repeats previous order that organizations move as soon as each is ready, regardless of additional recruits which will follow organization to border. McCain, Unquote.

...

Chicago, Ill., June 30, 1916. ... Following repeated for your information guidance and transmission to all concerned quote Commanding General Central Department, Chicago, Ill., in view of the fact that general knowledge of troop movements enroute to Texas border or in Texas might result in some malicious act that might seriously hamper these movements and also might result in unnecessary loss of life among troops, Secretary of War directs that all concerned in your department be instructed to effect that no information as to movements of troops is to be given to representatives of the press, to any individual other than the officials of the railroad concerned or the representatives of the American railway association located at the various department headquarters and mobilization and concentration points McCain unquote.

...

Chicago, Ill., July 3, 1916. ... Following from War Department today quote if new oath to comply with sections seventy and seventy-one national defense act has been taken there is no necessity for repeating it or taking any other. ...Men refusing should be held to federal service as organized militia and mustered as contemplated in section seven Dick bill McCain unquote.

Lincoln, Nebr., July 4, 1916. ... Nebraska Aero Company fully organized according to Tables of Organization. All men have taken required oath. Chief, Division Militia Affairs informs us quote Before application for Aero Company can be considered, it will be necessary for the State's quota of troops called for to be raised to war strength unquote.

...

Chicago, Ill., July 16, 1916. ... War Department instructions sent July 5th to all mustering officers are repeated for all camp quartermasters. Quartermaster supplies for militia reaching mobilization camps after departure of troops will be forwarded to organizations at their present stations and invoices covering same forwarded to respective regimental quartermasters. Commanding general southern department should be advised of each shipment unquote department commander directs compliance.

...

Lincoln, Nebr., July 17, 1916. ... The following telegram received these headquarters. Quote Private H. C. Stingley, Company K, 4th Infantry residence Silver Creek, Nebr. father's name C. J. Stingley, Silver Creek drowned while bathing. Body no yet recovered unquote.

...

Lincoln, Nebr., July 18, 1916. ... Reference National Defence oath of men not already signed up attention invited to Section seventy National defense act period R. S. Neb. Par. 3919 sec. 21 provides quote I do solemnly swear or affirm that I will bear true allegiance to the United States and to the state of Nebraska that I will serve them ho0nestly and faithfully against all their enemies and opposers whomsoever, and that I will observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States, the Governor of this State and the orders of the officers appointed over me according to the rules and articles of the government of the army of the United States and this state. Unquote. explain this to captains and men concerned.

I note that the July 16 telegram, as reprinted in the report, lacks a "quote" marker to serve as a bookend to the unquote at the end—an error that renders the "unquote" marker very nearly useless.

From "Reuters Telegram: Latest Particulars: Biaches Fort Taken: Captured by Eight Men," in the Rutherglen [Victoria] Sun and Chiltern Valley Advertiser (July 21, 1916):

A German company, which occupied the fort, resisted all day. A French officer with seven men crept up to the fort without being detected. The French officer and one man rushed up throwing grenades, and shouting quote charge with bayonet unquote. The enemy, consisting of 113 men/became panic stricken and surrendered The enemy believed that the other six French men who were charging up furiously were forerunners of many more.

From various telegrams and cables originally sent in 1916, reprinted in The Papers of Woodrow Wilson: November 20, 1916-January 23, 1917 (1982):

Ft. Sam Houston, Texas, November 30, 1916.

Number 3819. Following received from General Bell. Quote: Replying to your eight fifty five shall keep you posted. Have been sending General Pershing whatever information came into our possession. ... Whether Villa has a force at Sauz or not there is a large body of bandits estimated at about one thousand between Sauz and Juarez. It is not believed that Villa himself will attempt to come to Juarez. It has just been reported a number of people are shouting viva Villa in the streets of Juarez and are not being disturbed. Unquote. Bell. Funston.

...

Fort Sam Houston, Texas, December 9, 1916.

Following received from General Pershing: Quote: Villistas gathering cattle, horses, Santa Clara Valley. Entire district said now to be for Villa. ... In the light of Villa's operation during the past two weeks, further inactivity of this command does not seem desirable, and there is no longer doubt as to the facts. As stated in previous communications, aggressive action would probably meet no resistance by Carrancist{a}s and should meet their approval. Civilian elements would welcome us, as they now wonder at out inactivity. Unquote.

...

{London} December 29th 1916.

5390 Very Confidential and Urgent for the President ... He [Lloyd George] went on to speak most earnestly and eloquently of the relations of our to governments and peoples, saying, quote, "We are friends. We are kinsmen. We have common ideals and a common destiny. A capital danger to one is a capital danger to the other. ... We must forget incidental irritations and forgive mistakes. The future of the whole world depends on our understanding one another." Unquote. He added, quote, "Do I make myself quite clear? We do make mistakes. We do have irritations. They will be forgotten if we are both conciliatory. But the harm done to all mankind if we drift apart will never be forgotten nor forgiven." Unquote.

This last note reads oddly because it uses the "quote"/"unquote" conventions of contemporaneous trans-Atlantic cables, but also includes actual quotation marks. I don't know whether these were included in the original text of the message or not.


The early days of 'end quote'

For its part, "end quote," in the sense of "end (or close) quotation mark, has appeared in published works since at least 1894. From "The Late Dr. Norman Chevers" in The Medical Reporter (October 16, 1894):

We have a peculiar weakness for inverted commas, or as printers call them "begin and end quote," and it is only fair that when anything is "lifted" out of our columns, to which we have no objections whatever, our contemporaries should comply with the custom observed by all honest journalists—that is, not to omit the commas we have referred to.

From "Newspaper Proof-Reading," in The Writer (July 1901):

The only pause a proof-reader knows is the pause to take breath. It is better to take moderately deep inspirations and read five or six lines than to take a shallow breath that needs renewing at every comma. A parenthesis may be signified by dropping the voice three or four notes while passing through it. Quotation marks, where they are not obvious, are indicated by the reader by using the expression "quote" and "end quote." Where but one or two words are inclosed in quotation marks, it is the quicker way to call off the number of words quoted, as: "They were 'in sweet accord' (three quote) on this point." Any punctuation, whether unusual or obscure, is indicated by naming it and not by any inflection of the voice. "He is dead (period)," "He is dead (quære)," and "He is dead (screamer)" serve to make it clear to the copy holder whether the sentence is a statement, an interrogatory, or an exclamation.

And from "Helpful Hints and Suggestions," in The Writer (December 1903):

For Writers Who Dictate.—When you are dictating to a typewriter or to any copyist, if you want to have a word written with a capital letter, say, for instance: "State, capped." If you want to have the whole word printed in capitals, say: "State, in capitals." If you want to have a short phrase put in quotation marks, say, for instance,: "These (pause) boodlers and grafters quoted (pause) of whom I have spoken." If you wish to have a long extract put in quotation marks, say at the beginning: "Begin quote," and at the end: "End quote." Always indicate a new paragraph to the copyist by saying, "Paragraph."

The use of "end quote" in the same sense as "unquote" was current by 1900.

From George Horton, A Fair Brigand (1899):

Two of my countrymen are in the clutches of Takis, the most fiendish and implacable demon since the days of Nero. Quote: 'If the ransom demanded is not in my hands in one week,' he said in his letter to the American Consul, 'I will send these Americans back piecemeal.' End quote. Perhaps he is even now carrying out his hideous threat. Horrible!

From a telegraph message dated April 11, 1900, from the Quartermaster-General in Washington D.C., to the quartermaster in Seattle, Washington, reprinted in Moran Brothers Company v. the United States (May 16, 1904):

Following instructions received by me form the Assistant Secretary of War (quote)—"You are authorized to purchase the steamer G.W. Dickinson, now in process of construction at the shipyard of Messrs. Moran & Bros., Seattle, Washington, at the price at which she is offered for sale by Mr. E. E. Caine, viz, one hundred and forty-five thousand dollars, upon the conditions hereinafter contained. ... third, that the ship shall be inspected and examined by a board of examiners consisting of General George M. Randall, commanding the Department of Alaska, one representative of the Quartermaster's Department, and an officer of the Navy Department, with a favorable report thereon to be approved by the Secretary of War upon the recommendation of the Quartermaster-General' (end quote).

From a telegram dated March 14, 1902, reprinted in "Letter from the Secretary of War, Transmitting to the Senate Information Relating to the Free Transportation of Goods for Private Firms to and from the Philippine Islands in Government Transports" (April 3, 1902):

Resolution Senate calls for information (quote) relating to the free shipment or transportation of goods for private firms or individuals to or from the Philippine Islands in Government transports (end quote).

And from a telegram sent from Manila, Philippines on April 23, 1908, reprinted in Dean Worcester, A History of Asiatic cholera in the Philippine Islands (1908):

Following telegram received from provgov Capiz quote. Proboard believes services cholera expert necessary believes prevent general epidemic municipality Sapian forty cases twenty-nine deaths Ivisan twenty-two cases twenty deaths Capiz three cases two deaths. Take up with bureau health. End quote.

By 1911, the convention for using "quote" and "end quote" to indicate a quotation seems to have been fairly well established in wire service journalism. From Charles Ross, The Writing of News: A Handbook with Chapters on Newspaper Correspondence and Copy Reading (1910):

  1. When an extract from a speech or a document is sent by wire, indicate the beginning of the quoted matter with the word "quote" and the end with the words "end quote."

And from Eleanora Banks, Correct Business and Legal Forms: A Reference Manual for Stenographers, Secretaries, and Reporters (1912/1916):

As punctuation-marks are neither counted nor sent [in telegrams] except on written instructions to send them, these marks may be omitted, with the exception of the period and interrogation point.

But in important telegrams, where a direct quotation is to be transmitted the safest method is to name the marks of punctuation, including the quotation-marks, as in the following example:

Insert in mortgage on page nine, end of first paragraph, these words quote in case of default in payment of the bonds comma or any coupon thereto belonging comma the trustee shall retain possession of the property period end quote.

This last cited references appears to be the same one that Aaron K cites in his answer—but he attributes it to a guide that Western Union published for secretaries (or teletype operators) around 1907. I haven't been able to find an earlier instance of the text than the first edition of Banks's book from 1912.


Assessment

The support for "end quote" as an instruction or typographical note meaning "end the quotation here" or "the quotation ends here" was widely understood and seemingly firmly established in the United States among journalists, editors, and telegraph operators. How it came to be eclipsed by the then-unknown term "unquote" within the next thirty years is not obvious from the print record—but an Ngram cahart of "end quote" (blue line) versus "unquote" (red line) for the period 1890–2019 leaves no question that it did happen:

The earliest instance of "unquote" that I could find was from a late breaking news flash published in an Indiana newspaper about the identification of bodies recovered from the Titanic disaster in April 1912—an article that seems to have been hurriedly added to the newspaper and not carefully edited or proofread. Nevertheless, it suggests that at least some people were already using "unquote" instead of "end quote" before the start of World War I.

That war saw the first burst of widespread use of "unquote" in cables to and from Europe and in internal communications within the U.S. military. in the aughts, the U.S. government had been at the forefront of nonjournalistic use of "end quote" but in the 1910s it gravitated toward "unquote." It may well be that "unquote" began as a mishearing of "end quote," but it had a couple of advantages over the more-established term: it was slightly shorter; and it was an unmistakable as a marker, whereas "end quote" might be ambiguous in certain contexts.

A couple of usage commentators within the past sixty years have weighed in on "unquote" versus "end quote." From Wilson Follett, Modern American Usage: A Guide (1966):

The broadcaster's practice of using the words quote and unquote in lieu of visual quotation marks is often copied by lecturers and persons reading aloud informally. Unquote is from the jargon of newspaper cables, and some who realize that it is not a word in the ordinary sense take pains to substitute end quote, which is perhaps better in one way but worse in another. We have all had to get used to hearing such a sentence as The White House spokesman said there would be a further announcement "in a matter of hours" read: [He] said there would be a further announcement quote in a matter of hours unquote. But this is an affliction no one should be required to get used to. For one thing, the quotation marks around such phrases ought not to be there for anyone to read. It is implicit in spokesman said that another's words are being reproduced in indirect discourse and it often makes no difference whether they are being exactly reproduced or not. For another, men so accomplished as those who broadcast should be able to make their pauses and intonation convey quotation marks whenever these are needed around such mere scraps and shards of utterance. When a quotation is read in extenso, there i no need to to say quote after one has said General B. made the following explanation. When the end is reached, a perceptible pause and a change of pitch will do the business of unquote without that clumsy and affected intruder into speech.

Writing almost forty years after Follett, Paul Brians, Common Errors in English Usage (2003) has a very different take on the merits of "unquote" versus "end quote":

endquite/unquote Some people get upset at the common pattern by which speakers frame a quotation by saying "quote ... unquote," insisting that the latter word should logically be "endquote"; but illogical as it may be, "unquote" has been used in this way for about a century, and "endquote" is nonstandard.

My own view is that the opportunity for reasoned opposition to "unquote" sailed (and sank) with the Titanic (which had no sails). A hundred and ten years later, English has a thoroughly established marker word that is as useful in some contexts as "exclamation point" sometimes is, and as pointless in others as an ill-considered "[sic]." Meanwhile, "end quote" still enjoys more widespread use than you might suppose from Brians's characterization of it as "nonstandard."

If you fear that your hearers would be baffled by "end quote," then by all mans use "unquote." If "unquote" makes you queasily ponder what the world would be like if the signal phrase "end transmission" were suddenly supplanted by "untransmission," then feel free to resort to the quasi-nonstandard "end quote." Most people, I think, will have a pretty good idea of what you mean regardless of which option you choose.

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In general, I have always heard "quote-unquote" used in direct sequence before a single word, often one which is being questioned. Example: He insists that low fat products are quote-unquote healthy!

Of course you would never actually write the "quote-unquote". It is for spoken word only. When writing you just put quotations around the word "healthy"

As for "quote" and "end quote", they are used around the body of an actual quotation.

He insists that quote low fat prooducts are the way to go for those trying to persue a healty diet. end quote

Here again, these things are never written, just used during spoken communication to clarify the part of the sentence which is a quotation.

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One cannot "unquote" a phrase or word if it is being quoted, unless of course you want to remove the word or phrase being quoted. Doesn't that make sense? To "seal" a quote, one must "end quote", or, "end of quote" which satifies and finalizes the context stated. The term "unquote" must have become common when it was accidently misconstrued with "end quote".

I value what my eighth grade teacher taught the lot of us upon a student "quoting" and "unquoting" something said that I've long forgotten. But I will always remember his lesson to be shared immediately there after on a quoted word or phrase...

If anyone can search historically where this term might have become transformed to it's hideous present (save many reporters and announcers on NPR), I would appreciate the info!

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