Smart quotes for smart Ubuntu people

Jason Santa Maria recently put together “Smart Quotes for Smart People” to explain that using old-fashioned “straight quotes” (the ones that don’t curve, like this: ” ) is a typographical horror and we should be using proper curved quotation marks when writing. He is wholly correct in this.1 There have traditionally been problems where smart quotes have ended up in program code to be cut-and-pasted, with obvious shrieking from your computer when it fails to recognise them, but when actually writing for human consumption, we should be writing with human punctuation. Wordpress, which I’m using to publish this site, is good at this (well done, Wordpress team!), allowing you to write with typewriter-style straight quotes and then converting them for you, but many things do not. JSM’s2 polemic, for National Punctuation Day, includes instructions on how to actually type proper quotation marks at the keyboard for Windows and Mac users, but not (yet) for Ubuntu. So, the explanation below.

To type proper quotation marks on Ubuntu:

Single opening quoteShift+AltGr then < then '
Single closing quoteShift+AltGr then > then '
Double opening quoteShift+AltGr then < then "
Double closing quoteShift+AltGr then > then "

You’ll notice a certain amount of commonality here. First, the Shift+AltGr to mean “I’d like to type something special”, then < or > to mean “left” or “right”, then the quotation mark you want to type. So a right double-quote is typed as a straight double-quote with “specially, make it the right-hand one of these” before it.

That Shift+AltGr thing is actually the Compose key, and it can be used to type all sorts of inaccessible characters without having to remember a magic number for them. For example, the copyright symbol © is typed with Shift+AltGr, o, c — that is: “specially, draw a circle around c”. Learning a couple of these means that you can guess others: for example, the registered trademark symbol ® is Shift+AltGr, o, r, for it is a circle around an “r”. An O with a slash through it — Ø — is Shift+AltGr, /, O. That’s why the Shift+AltGr is called “Compose”: you use it to compose together a series of characters. And now you can use it to write smart quotes for human beings.

  1. To quote from the site itself, “When dealing with code, straight quotes are often required. Otherwise, straight quotes should never appear in your design work and professional writing, unless you are making a site about proper punctuation.”
  2. normally I’d use a surname here, viz. “Langridge’s polemic”, but I’m not sure whether that would be “Maria’s” or “Santa Maria’s”, horrible English imperialist that I am