Air quotes, also called "finger quotes" or "ersatz quotes" are virtual quotation marks formed in the air with one's fingers when speaking. This is typically done with hands held shoulder-width apart and at the eye level of the speaker, with the index and middle fingers on each hand flexing at the beginning and end of the phrase being quoted. The air-quoted phrase is—in the most common usage—very short, at most a few words.
While the term "air quotes" did not appear until 1989, use of similar gestures has been recorded as early as 1927. A single-handed quote is a simplified variation.
The gesture was used routinely in the TV show Celebrity Charades (1979) as the standard signal for a quote or phrase.
The trend became very popular in the 1990s, attributed by many to comedian Steve Martin, who often used them with exaggerated emphasis in his stand-up shows. Another popularization of air quotes was the character Bennett Brauer, played on the sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live by Chris Farley, an aggressive but socially awkward commentator who used air quotes to mock societal expectations of him. Additionally, in the blockbuster Austin Powers film franchise, Dr. Evil makes exaggerated use of air quotes when explaining matters to his henchmen, particularly while using real phrases he erroneously believes himself to have coined such as "laser" and "Death Star."
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