What is it about quotation marks? Some people seem to scatter them around like punctuation confetti.

One of the uses for quotation marks is to indicate that you’re distancing yourself from the word or phrase. When you use them to do this, they’re known as scare quotes.

Too often, quotation marks are used as scare quotes when they’re not needed. As R L Trask points out in his excellent book Mind The Gaffe, if you think your insurance company is ‘ripping you off’, then you should either say so outright or not use the phrase at all.

In summing up scare quotes, Trask also shows the comic effect of unnecessary quotation marks:

In short, then, when you put quotation marks around some words, you are denying all responsibility for those words. So, all those pub signs declaring that they sell ‘traditional pub food’ are in fact implying that they are serving up microwaved sludge. You can’t use quotation marks for emphasis.”

— from Mind The Gaffe by R L Trask

As a rule, unless you’re quoting someone you probably don’t need to use quotation marks. And on a lighter note, check out the “Blog” of “unnecessary” quotation marks. It made us smile.

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