1. Education
Send to a Friend via Email

scare quotes

By

Definition:

Quotation marks used around a word or phrase not to indicate a direct quotation but to suggest that the expression is somehow inappropriate or misleading.

Scare quotes are often used to express skepticism, disapproval, or derision, and writers are advised to use them sparingly.

See also:

Examples and Observations:

  • "The real risk is that health care reform will be undermined by 'centrist' Democratic senators who either prevent the passage of a bill or insist on watering down key elements of reform. I use scare quotes around 'centrist,' by the way, because if the center means the position held by most Americans, the self-proclaimed centrists are in fact way out in right field."
    (Paul Krugman, "Health Care Showdown." The New York Times, June 22, 2009)


  • "The draft doesn't include an exact cost, though casually notes the ballpark 'investment' could run as high as $150 billion a year."
    ("The Obama Health Plan Emerges." The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 20, 2008)


  • "I have used scare quotes (single quotation marks) in this book to flavor words or phrases with irony, to recognize sensitivities, to dissociate myself from a familiar usage--to call attention to usage and to invite the reader to think about how it may be too blithe, or wrong. For example, 'proper' woman: the scare quotes mean I wish to open the term to critical attention, to bring forward the prescriptions of propriety, so we can see them at work."
    (Elizabeth Kamarck Minnich, Transforming Knowledge, 2nd ed. Temple Univ. Press, 2005)


  • "Scare quotes
    This tactic is a means of influencing opinion against a view that one opposes. . . . Suppose someone makes the following claim about people trying to settle in the UK for reasons of political asylum:
    Almost all asylum seekers are economic migrants.
    Now consider the effect of using scare quotes around the term 'asylum seekers' so that the claim becomes:
    Almost all 'asylum seekers' are economic migrants.
    As you can see, the addition of scare quotes has the same rhetorical effect as putting the phrase 'so-called' before the crucial term or phrase. The claim becomes much more explicitly negative in respect of its questioning of the legitimacy of people's claims for asylum. Indeed, it has virtually the same effect as the rhetorically explosive phrase 'bogus asylum seekers.'"
    (Tracy Bowell and Gary Kemp, Critical Thinking: A Concise Guide, 2nd ed. Routledge, 2005)


  • "When we looked at all the essays together, . . . we found piece after piece littered with little typographical markings that like insect tracks were bleeding the life out of description, argument, dramatization. It was like a horror movie, when the demons that have previously appeared only in dreams and glimpses by a child that her parents ignored are suddenly everywhere, everywhere you look, and you can’t escape. Scare quotes.

    " . . . Scare quotes kill narrative. They kill story-telling. And it’s not a question of parsing, examining, analyzing, laying bare sacred texts. They are a writer’s assault on his or her own words.

    "They may seem to be a screen in which a writer pretends that he or she understands the inherently questionable nature of discourse itself--'when I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean'--but in truth it’s a matter of a writer protecting himself or herself from whatever it is he or she is writing--protecting himself or herself from his or her peers, from his or her audience: You can’t believe I really meant that, can you? See the quotes? I’m not fooled--not even by myself!
    (Greil Marcus, "Notes on the Making of A New Literary History of America." Harvard University Press Online, May 10, 2010)

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.