03 May 2011

Punctuation matters

What a difference a quotation mark makes!

I was one of countless thousands who were fooled yesterday by the following quote attributed to Martin Luther King Jr.:

I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.

Because it expresses the sentiment of many of us who found ourselves at unease over some of the celebrations of Osama bin Laden's death, the quote rapidly spread. And I do mean rapidly — although its first appearance on the Web was sometime yesterday, by today it can be found on literally thousands of web sites and probably even more tweets and Facebook posts.

As it turns out, the first sentence wasn't written or uttered by King at all. So where did it come from? Apparently — and if this turns out to be a hoax I'll admit I was fooled a second time — it came from a Facebook user who was commenting on the celebrations and then backed up her comments with an accurate quote from King:

(Image and text copyright by Martin Luther King Jr., Facebook and Jessica D.; published here under fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law.)

Notice the quote marks around the quotation (you can click on the image to make it readable). Yet when Jessica's friends reposted her comment, they apparently left off the quotes. It was Jessica who mourned the loss of thousands, not the slain civil-rights leader.

Quotes are tiny, but they make a huge difference.