Talk:Scare quotes

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Jargon or term of art?[edit]

Scare quotes are either a term of art or jargon. I'm partial to the term jargon. However, as the jargon page says, it can be slightly POV. It'd be nice to get a journalist's opinion on this.

  • A recent edit has removed the quotes that were intentionally being used in correct fashion, under the misapprehension that they are scare quotes. The confidence of it! Enviable in a way, I suppose...--Wetman 20:33, 19 Feb 2005 (UTC)

"However, when a writer sets off a slang phrase in scare quotes, as if to legitimize the use of slang in formal writing, the result draws attention to the writer's superiority to his "low" material, an intrusion of the writer's persona that is not a desirable characteristic." - Isn't this an aesthetic preference, rather than a fact? 'It is not desirable' seems highly POV to me.

Now that I look at it, the whole article after the first paragraph is not very NPOV - it's all about "how one should use quotes", represented as fact and not attributed to any source. I'm not sure how to rewrite it - anyone feel like taking a stab at it? DenisMoskowitz 16:42, 10 January 2006 (UTC)
I'm pretty sure that this whole paragraph is some kind of elaborate joke. Notice that the writer used scare quotes ironically in the first sentence. I'm going to remove this paragraph and pare down some other sentences; this article should be an explanation of what scare quotes are, not a style guide. --Toby (talk) 05:55, 27 January 2006 (UTC)

In other fields[edit]

Scare quotes aren't just a topic in journalism. They are also used in much of academia. savidan(talk) (e@) 03:40, 19 March 2006 (UTC)

Agreed, in scientific writing it is common to put quotes around words that are not direct quotations. The usage, however, is not meant to be pejorative. Rather, it is meant to imply that the term is being used loosely, as in:
The electron "wants" to attain a lower energy state.
Also, in academic writing we often use quotes when we are inventing a new word, or inventing a new use for a word. In a certain sense we are quoting ourselves. For example:
This newly discovered "strain induced patterning" may have noteworthy applications.
Neither of these two cases seem to be covered by the current definition in the article, even though they are both "used for any other purpose than to identify a direct quotation" ... Anyone care to comment or update article? 21:32, 27 June 2006 (UTC)

In some cases, the scare quotes may be omitted without loss.[edit]

Doesn't that defeat the purpose of using them? It seems that if you lose the "so-called" spin that the quotation marks provide, you've indeed lost some of the author's meaning. Proposed: remove this line, unless the contributor can better explain his or her meaning. Ckamaeleon ((T)) 11:25, 25 May 2006 (UTC)

Professional opinion[edit]

I just sent one of my writers a link to this page to explain what scare quotes are. While I can't give you an attribution, I can tell you that scare quotes are generally considered bad form for a professional publication. I think the article actually does a good job at explaining why -- scare quotes denote a disapproval of a term (a "term") without actually explaining the disagreement. Also, it makes you sound like a sarcastic sixteen year old. The only time scare quotes are acceptable (imho) is if the writer then directly addresses the reason for using them. e.g.: Nobody "likes" him, they simply pretend to be nice to curry favor. Otherwise, avoid it. It's lazy. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talkcontribs) 18:18, 22 June 2006 (UTC)

Agreed, scare quotes are widely considered to be bad style. Unfortunately I don't have a copy of Strunk & White handy, there must be a laconic comment or two about them in that book and it would make a wonderful reference.

Strunk's 1918 work is available online at and has only this to say:
Proverbial expressions and familiar phrases of literary origin require no quotation marks.
These are the times that try men's souls.
He lives far from the madding crowd.
The same is true of colloquialisms and slang. Moioci 05:44, 13 March 2007 (UTC)

I don't think the reason is merely that scare quotes often denote disapproval, though; many times they're used when the quoted term is expected to be new or difficult to the audience (e.g. being a too technical term) and the writer wishes to reassure the reader that he's not too dumb to read the article even if he doesn't understand the quoted words, while perhaps suggesting at the same time that the terms are only used by people who want to appear smart, and he's not one of them because of the magic quotes. In any case, they leave too much room for interpretation, and most of the interpretations are not flattering to the writer or at least would never be printed if spelled out explicitly, so the most important thing to know about scare quotes is not to use them. Coffee2theorems 00:13, 29 August 2006 (UTC)

User nailed an important point by calling a scare quote "lazy": This needs elaboration in the article. Apart from perhaps legitimate uses as described in the article, scare quotes are often used to mask sloppy writing, or to support writing making vague insinuations. That is, the writer knows what word sense they do not like, but does not know (or does not care to say) what word sense they prefer. That's very convenient, because it tends to force sympathetic readers to assume that the writer's opinion is the natural one, i.e., the reader's own. Piano non troppo (talk) 20:22, 29 December 2008 (UTC)

Removed section of "Examples"[edit]

I've removed this section and am placing it here for further analysis of the content and its accuracy and relevance to the subject of this article. ... Kenosis 06:39, 4 August 2006 (UTC)

  • ==Example==
A very normal quotation might be:
Harry was riding his bicycle, not out with the girl next door.

Scare quotes can be used to alter the meaning of this sentence to demonstrate the author's scorn, emphasis, disbelief, or skepticism:

Harry was "riding his bicycle", not out with the girl next door.


Harry was riding his bicycle, not out with the "girl next door".


Harry was riding his bicycle, not "out" with the girl next door.


Harry was riding his bicycle, not out with the "girl" next door.

06:39, 4 August 2006 (UTC)

Yeah those are pretty rubbish examples. But there should be some examples on the page. 11:32, 15 November 2006 (UTC)

I would love to see some examples in the main page; because I think I understand, but I could be mistaken... Kengwen 02:26, 19 November 2006 (UTC)


Used for emphasis? Which style manuals recommend this? Michael Z. 2006-09-26 16:25 Z

None that I'm aware of! -Phoenixrod (talk) 03:12, 21 November 2007 (UTC)

What about emphasis quotes?[edit]

A lot of people (myself included) despise emphasis-only quotes, but they aren't too rare. An example of a plain-emphasis quote being (humorously) misinterpreted as a scare quote: . Some people actually seem to think that putting quotes around a word enhances or emphasizes its meaning, even though for most readers the effect is often quite the opposite. --Lode Runner (talk) 10:49, 20 November 2007 (UTC)

Or there are places that advertise "fresh" fish ... enough to make you stay far, far away. But what does this have to do with the article? Are you suggesting putting something in about the too-common misuse of scare quotes for emphasis? -Phoenixrod (talk) 03:16, 21 November 2007 (UTC)

Yes, I remember Spanish coffee with "real" whipped cream. What could they possibly be implying? We had the tea instead. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 01:37, 11 June 2009 (UTC)

I have added a section noting that this is a known but wrong usage.Martinlc (talk) 16:53, 11 June 2009 (UTC)

Does this not raise the whole question as to whether the article (and most others on linguistic topics) should be descriptive or prescriptive? I'm in favour of prescriptive myself, but the tenor of the times is that there is no right and wrong about language use (particularly in English with its global reach and local usages) and the only meaningful categories are "in use" and "not in use."

If the answer here is that the text should be simply descriptive then this usage for scare quotes deserves a mention and does not deserve censure, since everyone has the right to use the language as they see fit. Wiki with its own constantly evolving collaborative approach might be a poor place to start the crusade for correctness in language use. Not that I'm required to like it! Jorvikian (talk) 02:31, 13 September 2011 (UTC)

To me it seems quite reasonable to include information about "correct usage" as part of an encyclopedia project that is largely descriptive. This can be done with a light touch, neutrally, and respectfully, indicating any controversies, while at the same time satisfying the reader who wants to know the conventional "right answer".
A great example of this is in the entry for Quotation mark, where we read: Quotation marks are sometimes used to provide emphasis, although this is usually considered incorrect. (two citations are given)
-- (talk) 16:02, 23 December 2011 (UTC)

First Dawkins example[edit]

The first example employing Dawkins looks like a use-mention distinction:

  • Dawkins called his concept of the evolving idea the "meme".

Agree/disagree? The definition given in this article seems to mean that any example of quotation marks to make a use-mention distinction is also an example of scare quotes. That strikes me as wrong. Djk3 (talk) 02:38, 7 March 2008 (UTC)

Neutral distancing does intersect with the 'mention' of use-mention distinction. Perhaps noting this is enough of a solution. Binksternet (talk) 16:20, 7 March 2008 (UTC)
I have had a go at adding the use–mention distinction - an article I was not aware of until this point was raised! Snalwibma (talk) 17:57, 7 March 2008 (UTC)
I am satisfied.  :) Djk3 (talk) 19:54, 7 March 2008 (UTC)

Etymology of the phrase[edit]

If anyone knew why they were called scare quotes, it would be great if they could update this entry with that information. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16:11, 23 December 2008 (UTC)

I did do some research and I found out that the term itself is an ill-coined meaningless term that was coined as far back as the 1800s and yet nobody who coined it or why or exactly when or for what reasonh. Even the editors of the OED say they do not know. So the question now is why are we still using a term that is meaningless, ill-coined, mal-coined and not scary at all. I suggest we find a better word or phrase for this kind of term. In fact, not one person on this Earth today knows why they are called scare quotes, and most people agree the term is senseless.— Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs)
Wikipedia is about observing usage, not changing it. Binksternet (talk) 05:41, 27 July 2012 (UTC)

Rewrite 2009-01-26[edit]

I did fairly extensive research on this topic, mostly through Google Books, and based on what I found I just made some major changes to the article. I added quite a bit of text and citations, rewrote the header in a way that changed its meaning significantly, and changed the tone to be slightly less critical of the general use of scare quotes because I actually found a great many instances where authors use the term to describe their own writing and aren't using them deceptively or maliciously. I also removed the Newswriting category because I found that use of the term or of scare quotes themselves isn't really particular to news or the media; for example, there was surprisingly widespread use of the term within academia during the entirety of the latter half of the twentieth century, whereas checking the NY Times and Time magazine archives doesn't turn up any use before the 1990's.

This is definitely a tricky topic to write clearly about and write about in general (I kept wanting to put the term scare quotes in scare quotes... my head nearly exploded) so please feel free to rewrite or revert if it seems to you that some part of my changes don't work. --❨Ṩtruthious andersnatch❩ 19:20, 26 January 2009 (UTC)

Controversy in examples[edit]

It seems to me that it might be best to steer away from using examples that depict usage of scare quotes in the context of a controversial modern topic (such as creationism) since, even if presented neutrally or purely as examples, we may be inciting other editors to get involved in altering the examples out of POV concerns. And besides that, such examples may distract the reader from the topic of the article if he or she disagrees with the opinion expressed within the example. --❨Ṩtruthious andersnatch❩ 10:27, 30 January 2009 (UTC)

Feel free to come up with more neutral examples. Perhaps some that are at a greater historical remove... Binksternet (talk) 16:30, 30 January 2009 (UTC)
Thanks! I'll see what I can come up with. --❨Ṩtruthious andersnatch❩ 06:42, 31 January 2009 (UTC)

Revert lead[edit]

I would like to revert the changes made to the lead recently by an IP editor to something more like this version because it looks to me as though that editor was completely ignoring the rest of the article. Scare quotes aren't simply used for irony, which is what the rewrite has changed it to say; a wide variety of applications are described in the rest of the article.

The fact that the editor stuffed an entire quotation of a poem in there above the table of contents is another thing that's making me skeptical. The lead ought to be a brief summary. I also think that ambiguous phrases in the vein of "scare quoting is sometimes able to distance itself not only from this or that usage, but from linguistic usage as such" ought to be avoided. --❨Ṩtruthious andersnatch❩ 00:00, 20 February 2009 (UTC)

I added curly Unicode scarequotes around the opening phrase “Scare quotes”. I am sorry to report that it appears the edit is substantially and definitionally recursive. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 01:06, 12 December 2009 (UTC)

Scare intonation and rhythm?[edit]

What about when people change the intonation rhythm when speaking a certain word, expression or phrase for the same purpose as using scare quotes in written text and air quotes in spoken language? (somtimes these changes result in it becoming obvious the speaker is mocking) --TiagoTiago (talk) 20:06, 12 April 2010 (UTC)

Extra usage (at least in UK English)[edit]

During my early years it was common practice to make misleading claims for items on sale - the one I remember most was the food marked as "home made" (BUT WITHOUT THE QUOTE MARKS) or "farm fresh" (DITTO). At some point in the 70s (I think) it became illegal in the UK to mislabel food as "home made" (NO QUOTES) if it was not genuinely made in the home (or at least on the premises). People who had been selling factory-made pasties promptly labelled them as "Home Made" (WITH QUOTES) and told any inspectors that they were not claiming that it was the real thing - as anyone could tell by seeing the quote marks. I think they got round labelling of non-genuine "Jersey Royals" or other protected designations the same. Later the law was tightened and EU regulations don't allow the "it's only in quotes so people know it's not genuine" defence, but you do still see this used - sometimes with the addition of the word "style" as an added legal defence for deliberately misleading labelling.

This was generally used by small retailers, and did not get into print versions where its dubious legality might lead to prosecution - thus making it difficult to provide proof of this usage. If someone else has got a way of proving this usage, it would be a helpful addition to the article.

I have a theory that this is one of the origins of scare quotes as emphasis; people who didn't realise that "home made" was different from "home made", could see no function in the scare quotes except that the eye was drawn to that phrase because of their presence. One person says, "Hey, that's a good idea. When I'm getting my new signs done I get the painters to include a couple of those." And thus the scare quote becomes a vehicle for emphasis when everyone else wants to copy this new and - presumed - effective form of eye-catcher.

Jorvikian (talk) 02:27, 13 September 2011 (UTC)

This is a delightful theory! But my experience in the urban and rural U.S. is quite different. I see the usage as an innocent one.
Small retailers, local civic groups, and so forth have been (mis)using quotation marks for emphasis for as long as I can remember. They do in so in many different contexts and with great enthusiasm. These include many circumstances where there is no commercial claim being made, or if there is, there is zero chance of effective pursuit by any "inspector" other than the customer.
Some funny examples of signage with "emphasis quotes" are given at The thesis of the blog is that the literate viewer will read them as conveying doubt, irony, or distance, rather than emphasis -- which is hilarious in context. In any case, only a few of the examples are positive commercial claims, and nearly none can be explained by fear of legal consequences.
-- (talk) 15:34, 23 December 2011 (UTC)

Where and why?[edit]

This article is written as if the name and usage is universal. I'm a pretty experienced user of and listener to Australian English, and I've never heard the term "Scare quotes".

Is there an indication in the sources (or in other editors' knowledge) that it's more common in some places than others?

And why scare quotes? What's scary about them?

Sorry if these questions seem odd, but when when I come across a new and puzzling expression I like to try to understand. And maybe the article needs to give some geographic of usage. HiLo48 (talk) 06:32, 3 June 2012 (UTC)

If I recall correctly, all of the earliest uses of the term that I came across were in American sources, though I'm looking at online sources like Google Books that feature U.S. works more prominently. One of our sources for the article is in the University of Sussex Guide to Punctuation and another was the Cambridge Guide to Australian English Usage, but I can't remember now if the latter was just describing the same phenomenon or actually using the term "scare quotes".

As to why, the earliest instances of the phrase I'd seen were a different meaning that referred to a quotation that would be used to scare readers or listeners in a public-relations-type sense - see here (Google Books link, apologies if you aren't permitted to see it) in a 1946 novel called Southern California: An Island on the Land:

...the best advertising brains in California were put to work culling scare-quotes from Mr. Sinclair's voluminous writings. as a purely offhanded guess I'd say that that term got applied to this phenomenon at some point. --truthious andersnatch 07:28, 3 June 2012 (UTC)

I first heard the phrase last week. Here in Ontario, it was a journalist who used it, and another journalist this week.

I've seen this usage, just never heard the phrase. I once saw a sign in a parking lot, saying that cars without stickers would be "towed" (with quotation marks) and wondered what they really meant, so that was a little scary. 77Mike77 (talk) 21:26, 11 February 2013 (UTC)

A correction has been made regarding the history[edit]

This article is about a particular use of quotations marks. Any history of the phrase "scare quotes" should be about that as well. But if the phrase "scare quotes" is used to mean something completely different, then that meaning should not be used in this article -- not without clarification. An actual example of a different meaning is the use of the expression "scare quotes" to mean: "short phrases or quotations that might scare some people". For example: finding phrases that a politician has spoken that might scare some voters, and then putting those scary words as a quotation on a campaign ad. It may be a legitimate use, but it is different from this article's use. The 1946 book, Southern California: an Island on the Land, by Carey McWilliams uses the expression to mean scary phrases as I just described, which is not in any way as this article uses the expression. And so the reference to the 1946 book should not be used to support the phrase "scare quotes" with the definition that this article is using. The book with the phrase on page 298 can be found online. [1] Barklerung (talk) 17:41, 8 March 2015 (UTC)

I will add this other meaning to the article. Barklerung (talk) 17:01, 9 March 2015 (UTC)

passage on Taiwan and China[edit]

The following passage was removed. It contains a stories and information about a contentious issue, but it doesn't belong in this article. It could be moved to a more pertinent article:

Taiwan-based reporter Dan Bloom wrote in The Taipei Times that "Beijing propaganda officials also use a Western punctuation device (so-called 'scare-quotes') to blot out Taiwan's dignity and geopolitical space." In China, scare quotes in state-controlled media (using double bracket quotes as the Chinese equivalent of quotation marks) are often used to belittle the reality of rival nation Taiwan by putting the names of Taiwan's leaders and government bodies in double bracket quote marks.[1]

Bloom also wrote an editorial-page article in the China Post headlined "'Scare quotes' having a 'field day' in the 'media'", in which he said that "in the long run-up to the American presidential election this coming November 2012, an epidemic of so-called 'scare quotes' is turning political punditry and commentary into what might be called 'a punctuation epidemic'." His article also said that "when someone on the left or right doesn't like the language of the opposing side, the writer often put the words in scare quotes, to signal to the reader that he or she is of a very different opinion, and as a result, nothing gets resolved and only more confusion and noise results."[2]

Barklerung (talk) 13:39, 13 March 2015 (UTC)


Possible earliest usage[edit]

I was reading The Castle of Adventure by Enid Blyton. First published 1946 by Macmillan Children's Books. The first paragraph of chapter 25, At Midnight reads:

Jack slept peacefully again for some hours. He did not wake till Bill returned in the car. With him were four “friends.” Jack thought they looked pretty tough. It was plain that Bill was in authority over them.

In the book we know that Bill is a policeman of some authority and at the end of chapter 23 he says he has to go off to collect a few friends [without scare quotes], who we learn are actually his colleagues.

As this is a children's book I find it hard to believe this was Blyton's innovation. I imagine it was fairly common even then.

Dyaimz (talk) 06:41, 14 April 2015 (UTC)

Difference between normal quotation marks and "scare quotes"[edit]

When are words in quotation mark just normal quotes and when are they "square quotes". I just added the quotation marks here, because I borrowed / repeated the wording from the article. -- (talk) 19:04, 30 June 2015 (UTC)

Stove quote[edit]

I reverted the deletion of the Stove quote. Sorry. Fair enough if you insist on deleting the quote, I realize it's unusually long, I won't argue if you feel the need to have it gone. But I read those pages you cited - I spent some time making it short as possible, it's hard to improve the wording, it's very relevant, useful in understanding the subject, attributed, etc. I can't see anything in any part of what you linked to indicated a problem, re legally or re wiki style guidelines. It kind of jars where it is, because the sentences before it aren't great, have a vague and waffly feel to them, don't say much. Stove on the other hand puts his finger on exactly how destructive and obfuscating scare quotes can be in academia/ the public sphere, which isn't exactly easy to describe as accurately or vividly. Etc.

On a different matter -'Criticism' is a 'problematic' section/title already I think - criticism of the use of scare quotes is already implied in this name for them, isn't it. No-one saying they're a good thing - or are they? Yesenadam (talk) 13:44, 27 September 2015 (UTC)

WP:COPYQUOTE discourages using long quotations "where a shorter quotation would express the same information". Quoting a full 789 words from Stove is certainly excessive, and takes up almost half the article. We might not be able to write as vividly as Stove's original text, but we can certainly summarise his points. --McGeddon (talk) 13:56, 27 September 2015 (UTC)
I appreciate that you did take some time to make the edits, and I left the paragraph on Stove in even if I removed the quote. 789 words violates both quotation rules (not explicitly, but it definitely violates the spirit of the rules) and makes it less likely that anyone will actually read the quote. Less is more. The source is cited in the article and even available online for anyone who wants to read it, so anyone who does care enough can see the entire thing. As for specific reasons I cited those guidelines: "Overuse [of quotations] happens when ... the quotes dominate the article"; "Extensive quotation of copyrighted text is prohibited."; "The copied material should not comprise a substantial portion of the work being quoted" etc. These aren't numerical rules but based on my interpretation and I imagine the vast majority of people's interpretations, 789 words is far, far too long.
On a separate point, copyediting the text to make it more concise is not really allowed either: "Any alterations [to quotes] must be clearly marked" (Wikipedia:Non-free content#Text). You can summarise the key points outside of quotation marks (e.g. "Stove said x, y and z about scare quotes") but you can't just mix in your own words with someone else's within a passage clearly marked as a quotation. Bilorv(talk)(c)(e) 16:29, 27 September 2015 (UTC)

In speech[edit]

Before I found this page, I did a search on Wikipedia for the term "quote unquote" which people use in conversation because I was curious if that was an official term. It leads to the page for the BBC radio program of the same name, but it has a disambiguation heading which says this: For the act of saying "quote" and "unquote" in conversation, see Scare quotes#In speech That link lead me to the scare quotes page, but there is no section "in speech". I'm new to wikipedia, so how would one go about removing that disambiguation heading link? (talk) 20:06, 18 April 2016 (UTC)

Scare-line being split from Scare quotes article[edit]

Opinions are needed on the following: Talk:Scare-line#WP:Content fork. A permalink is here. Flyer22 Reborn (talk) 05:38, 10 January 2017 (UTC)