Interview with Bethany Keeley

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Grammarist is delighted to offer our dedicated readers a featured interview a week. We have had the opportunity to interview numerous grammar experts, grammar bloggers, grammar authors and professors, and would like to share their stories and insights in order to connect you with their witty, shrewd and instructive take on the English language.

Bethany Keeley
Bethany Keeley

Grammarist is honored to introduce our first interviewee…Bethany Keeley, author of “the “blog” of “unnecessary” quotation marks.” Bethany admits she doesn’t consider quotation marks a peeve. She just thinks it’s funny to misinterpret them, almost always. She asserts that this is not the case with most other grammatical errors, although the occasional dangling modifier is pretty amusing to her as well. She’s just a girl trying to have fun with language, not protect it or enforce a “right” way to write or speak.

Q: Please introduce yourself

A: My name is Bethany. I grew up in West Michigan but have followed my academic career to Georgia and now suburban Chicago. My primary job is that I’m a college professor. I teach classes and conduct research in Communication Arts at a small college outside Chicago called Trinity Christian College. In addition to the quotation marks blog, I am a monthly opinion columnist on, a blog about faith and culture. I’m married to a terrific guy named Justin and we enjoy masquerading as competent adults by doing things like cooking, shopping together, watching TV, and DIY projects. We have a cat who is also very silly.

Q: How did you first start blogging?

A: I have been interested in blogging as a form since I knew what it was. I started a xanga blog that is now blessedly private in 2002. I think it’s a fun way to practice writing and interact with others.

Q: How long have you been blogging? How many followers do you have?

A: The quotation marks blog started in 2005, but as I said I did other blogging-type projects earlier. I don’t really measure success in blogging by “followers” since people access blogs a lot of different ways – that’s why I like it!

Q: Why blogging instead of a more traditional approach?

A: All along my goal was to do something interesting with the blog form. I don’t know what this idea would look like in another format. Ok, that’s not quite accurate, since we turned it into a book (Book of Unnecessary Quotation Marks Chronicle Books 2010) but it’s native to blogging, I don’t think it would have occurred to me to start out with another form. One thing that’s nice about blogging is you can do it as a big commitment or just a fun thing you do once in a while. If I knew I’d still be doing it 9 years later I might have thought it through a little more.

Q: Why do you do it?

A: For fun and profit.

Q: What is it about “The Blog about Unnecessary Quotations Marks” that has made it such a successful blog?

A: I think I got lucky that I had an idea that worked at the right moment. Cameraphones were becoming affordable and even standard about the same time I started the blog, which made it a lot easier for people to take photos to submit, because people were carrying digital cameras on their phones. And more and more people were getting broadband internet at home. I think the silliness of it and the specificity help too.

Q: How has blogging changed language? How we get news? How we use language?

A: I would hesitate to pose as an expert about any of these topics. It’s hard to separate out language change that originates in blogs from other kind of internet media like message boards and social media. I always tell my students, though, it’s a great way to practice writing and get your work out there and maybe even find an audience.

Q: What is so interesting about language/grammar to you?

A: I guess I think it’s interesting because of how it’s both essential for communication and sometimes impedes our communication with its weirdness and slipperiness. And I think it’s fun for the same reason. I love puns and word jokes.

Q: What do you think is your unique contribution to the English language?

A: I don’t know if it’s unique or a contribution, but I know I have made some people more precise in their use of punctuation.

Q: What kinds of people were you hoping to attract? Has it changed with time?

A: Honestly, when I started the blog, I thought it would be a fun activity to do with friends that might make me an interesting person to know. I did not think it would become as popular as it has. I’ve always been looking to have fun and that’s still my attitude.

Q: What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment in the world of language/grammar?

A: Understanding how to correctly deploy a semicolon.

Q: Why should anyone be more interested in linguistics/grammar?

A: Clear communication is essential to most other things one might want to accomplish in life.

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