Scare Quotes and Why You Don’t Need Them

According to Wikipedia,

Scare quotes are quotation marks placed around a word or phrase to imply that it may not signify its apparent meaning or that it is not necessarily the way the quoting person would express its concept.

They are quite popular with writers these days, especially bloggers. Problem is, they are rarely necessary. Editors and publishers are encouraging (even requiring) authors to get away from using them. For example, I could write,

  • My boys were so loud during “quiet” time.

What I mean is they were loud when they were supposed to be quiet. If I take out the scare quotes, you still understand I mean they were loud when they were supposed to be quiet. Nothing is really added to the sentence by using scare quotes.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes.” I want to encourage you to cut out all those scare quotes. Write what you mean and trust your reader to understand what you write.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the reminder, Sandra. I’ve actually never heard the term “scare quotes” before (oops, did I just use them?), but I must admit that I’ve used them on occasion. I suppose I want my readers to sense my sarcasm or exaggeration the way they would if I used finger quotes if I were speaking to them in person. I promise to try to do better. 🙂

    • Sandra says:

      🙂 I think you’re safe using them sparingly, especially in blog writing.