Two upright plastic containers, already a bit dented by the ravages of time. The container with the yellow lid says “Sugar” and the one with the blue lid says “SALT”. Level on both: low. The “caption”, as they say in Internet German, quotes the butler Alfred (Michael Caine) in the film “The Dark Knight” when he says about the Joker: “Some people just want to see the world burn.”

This Instagram post on the profile “Awkward Quotation Marks” does not produce “image-text-scissors”, but a confusing juxtaposition, as life so often produces: in the subway, at the butcher’s, in a doctor’s waiting room. The really pretty quote is only the flavor enhancer of the main thing: the meaning-distorting quotation marks on the Tupperware. This punctuation mark did not follow the tragic path of the dying semicolon – without its ordering effect, a written text is hardly imaginable, because it can separate the literal speech from the rest. The part-time job of the quotation mark, however, is what the studied economist and philosopher Hans Rusinek, who advises companies and who has now made a book out of his Instagram profile, that brings the clear beauty of his collecting idea to shine.

“I offer ‘classic massages’ by a qualified therapeutic masseuse. All kinds of health massages. ‘No erotica’. Only reputable ones…” says a classified ad from the Billa supermarket. Putting the note “No eroticism” in quotation marks means questioning it, which in turn cannot be the intention of the therapeutic masseuse who is offering herself. Likewise, the innkeeper certainly doesn’t want to denigrate his fish pan, but that’s exactly what he’s doing with this display: “Daily fresh ‘paella’ with chicken, fish and seafood”.

These little semantic slips have the same effect as the banana peel in the street or the wrong rake in the yard. The everyday catastrophe is predictable and rough – and unfortunately funny. A few years ago, laughing at misplaced apostrophes was popular.

But Rusinek, who looks for quotation marks, wants to avoid know-it-alls: “I’m not a German teacher. Spelling mistakes in the kebab shop, that’s too flat for me.” He sees his work as a “head opener” and poetry that has been picked up. The idea came about on a business trip to Atlanta, where he was admiring a colleague’s shot glass collection. The next morning, while walking through the city with a slightly hung-over head, the examples practically flew towards him – today he is sent up to 80 pictures a day. This can be menus, Tinder messages or a note on the soap dispenser that says “soap”. Or of course a tweet from Donald Trump, who questioned something again (when he was still allowed).

The collection has found many friends, including Christian Kracht. “Hans Rusinek is a very clever fellow,” the author is quoted on the cover – a seriously intended sham praise that fits this smart book.

“Aha! Ten minutes of everyday knowledge” is WELT’s knowledge podcast. Every Tuesday and Thursday we answer everyday questions from the field of science. Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Deezer, Amazon Music, among others, or directly via RSS feed.