“Scare Quote”

dogQuotation marks sometimes alert readers that the writer is using a word or words in a special or unusual way. The nickname for this usage is “scare quote.”

In the sentence below, the words in quotation marks comprise a scare quote:

Tuesday’s all-night debate was another clear opportunity to end the war, yet Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called it a “publicity stunt.”

At first glance, it seemed to me that this scare quote wasn’t necessary because there’s nothing unusual about the term publicity stunt. On the other hand, as Amy Einsohn writes in The Copyeditor’s Handbook, “…Double quotations marks may also be used to indicate that a word or phrase is being used ironically.”

In that case, the author of the sample sentence above used the scare quote appropriately: to  convey his/her view that labeling an all-night debate to end the war as a publicity stunt is absurd.


Tara Treasurefield

Treasurefield Communications


About 123clear

I translate foggy information into plain English.
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