The Daily Mail has annoyed me today.
I should add that this is pretty much the default position. I believe, at one level, that the Daily Mail exists to make reasonable people feel more logical and inclusive. Reading it is a deeply unpleasant experience, but once you've finished you can relax a little, knowing that in comparison to the people who generate its content, you're pretty much on a plane with Gandhi.
But what has the Mail (motto: "Give everyone their daily hate") done today? In common with other news outlets, they've reported on the recent suicide of Kevin McGee, ex-partner of Little Britain star Matt Lucas. A genuinely sad story, and one that perhaps needs a little sensitivity. Let's have a look at the headline, shall we?
Those inverted commas are doing a lot of heavy lifting in that sentence, aren't they? The truth of the matter is that Lucas and McGee had indeed been Civil Partners, having undergone the ceremony not long after it became legal in England a few years ago. In fact, the Daily mail acknowledges this too:
More inverted commas! The sub-editors were busy today, weren't they?
What do they signify, these errant punctuation points? They aim to belittle. It's their intention to ridicule, to resist. Never mind the fact that Civil Partnerships were a long-overdue development in this country, one that's been largely a success. There would have been nothing wrong in using words like partner - in fact I suspect some gay couples prefer the term. But no, let's use husband and marriage, then put them in inverted commas to make a point, shall we?
This is a typical Daily Mail tactic. There's something out there they don't like. And they don't think you, the reader, should like it either. But rather than heading for the debating floor, they'll poke and prod instead. A quick inverted comma or two works like an autocue for Outraged of Basildon. If we give you nudge here and a wink there, you'll get the message sure enough.
If you think I'm overplaying this, try reading out either of the two sentences above out loud, doing the 'air comma' gesture with your fingers either side of your head when you get to the words in question. Admit it, all of a sudden you've become a dick, haven't you?
I'll admit I might be a little sensitive as two years ago I was lucky enough to be at Brother Number 2's Civil Partnership ceremony. But there was no need for inverted commas there.
It's small-minded and unnecessary, especially given the nature of the story in question. Yet it's the sort of sneering attitude I've come to expect from the Mail. A 'quality newspaper' indeed.