fun with typography

My students are doing research projects on various educational issues. They choose a general area of focus and find sources themselves. A popular (and influential) source also presents some unusual typographic difficulties – to such an extent that I almost imagine the authors (in some sort of peculiar joke) intended them. The article, by Signithia Fordham and John U. Ogbu, bears the following title (as it would be printed in its title line):

Black Students’ School Success: Coping with the “Burden of ‘Acting White'”

In most style formats (certainly including MLA, which is used in English departments), titles of articles are set inside quotation marks. You can see where this is going: the article presents a positive collision of nested quotation marks at its tail. In the context of a student paper, then, the article might be referred to this way:

Signithia Fordham and John U. Ogbu’s article “Black Students’ School Success: Coping with the ‘Burden of “Acting White”‘”…

And, of course, American convention is to include the period inside closing quotation marks if a phrase in quotation marks ends a sentence. But…which one? All the way inside the third nested closing quotation mark immediately following the word white? Honestly, I have no clue – and I doubt MLA actually covers this one. I imagine copy-editors tearing their hair out, cursing the authors for their damnable quotation-mark-using superpowers.

I suspect Fordham and Ogbu had a good giggle, perhaps winning a bottle of wine or something in a departmental contest over who could legitimately crunch the most quotation marks together.

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