Scare quotes

Scare quotes

Scare quotes is a general term for quotation marks used for purposes other than to identify a direct quotation. For example, authors might use quotation marks to highlight special terminology, to distance the writer from the material being reported, to indicate that it is someone else's terminology, or to bring attention to a word or phrase as questionable or at least atypical in some way.

Scare quotes are often intended to provoke a negative association for the word or phrase enclosed in the quotes, or at least a suspicion about the appropriateness or full truth that might be presumed if the quotes were omitted. When communicating face-to-face, an approximation of scare quotes is a hand gesture known as "air quotes" or "finger quotes", which mimics the appearance of quotation marks.



The effect of using scare quotes is often similar to prepending a skeptical modifier such as "so-called" or "alleged" to label the quoted word or phrase, to indicate scorn, sarcasm, or irony.Cite web|url=|title=Scare Quotes|work=University of Sussex Guide to Punctuation|publisher=University of Sussex|first=Larry|last=Trask|authorlink=Larry Trask|year=1997] Scare quotes may be used to express disagreement with the original speaker's intended meaning without actually establishing grounds for disagreement or disdain, or without even explicitly acknowledging it. In this type of usage, they are sometimes called "sneer quotes".

*"Liberal": We've heard about these conservatives and their tax "relief".
*"Conservative": The liberals have proposed yet another form of "common-sense" gun control.
*"Libertarian": We're disappointed with the liberals' and conservatives' "inclusive" debate.

Neutral distancing

Enclosing a word or phrase in quotes can also convey a neutral attitude on the part of the writer, while distancing the writer from the terminology in question. The quotes are used to call attention to a neologism, special terminology (jargon), or a slang usage, or to indicate words or phrases that are descriptive but unusual, colloquial, folksy, startling, humorous, or metaphoric. They may indicate special terminology that should be identified for accuracy's sake as someone else's, for example if a term (particularly a controversial term) pre-dates the writer or represents the views of someone else. A special case of this use of quotes is in the use–mention distinction.

*Dawkins called his concept of the evolving idea the "meme".
*Dawkins' concept of the meme could be described as an "evolving idea".

Some writers prefer italics for this neutral usage, even though italics may easily be mistaken for emphasis. (This has been humorously labeled "scare italics".Cite web|url=|title=The Jawbone of a Scare Quote||date=20 March 2000|first=Scott "Slotcar Hatebath"|last=Hamrah ] )

Conversely, neutral quotes may indicate that the word or phrase in quotes has changed in meaning since its usage in the specific instance, especially if the word or phrase has gained a controversial or pejorative meaning.

*Billy Joe's story is analyzed in Professor John Howard's history of gay Mississippi entitled "Men Like That: A Queer Southern History" as an archetype of what Howard calls the "gay suicide myth". "(Howard's use, [John Howard. Men Like That: A Queer Southern History. ISBN 978-0226354705.] which refers to the academic meaning of the word "myth", is unrelated to the more recent conservative "gay suicide myth" theory that gay teen suicide rates are over-reported so that gays can claim unrealistic discrimination and obtain special treatment [ [] position on "gay suicide myth"] .)"

Style guidelines

While frequent in political material, advertising and other potentially manipulative forms of writing, style guides generally recommend the avoidance of scare quotes in impartial works, such as in encyclopedia articles.

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), 15th edition [cite web
url =
title = The Chicago Manual of Style Online
accessdate = 2007-11-08
] acknowledges this type of use but cautions against overuse in section 7.58, "Quotation marks are often used to alert readers that a term is used in a nonstandard, ironic, or other special sense [...] They imply 'This is not my term' or 'This is not how the term is "usually" applied.' Like any such device, scare quotes lose their force and irritate readers if overused."


Scare quotes (and other quotation marks used in a special sense) are usually given in the same style (single or double) as those used elsewhere in a work.Cite book|author=Butcher, J.; Drake, C.; Leach, M.|year=2006|title=Butcher's Copy-Editing: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Copy-Editors and Proofreaders|edition=4th ed|publisher=Cambridge University Press|location=Cambridge, England]

In linguistics

Quotation marks are used in linguistics to mark a gloss in the meta language. This differs from words in the object language, which are rendered in italics. The following sentence illustrates this:

* The Latin word "homo" means "man".

This sentence is about a word in the object language Latin, which appears in italics, and its meaning in the meta language English, enclosed in quotation marks.

See also

* Use–mention distinction


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