Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Editorial's Tip of the Week

Let me introduce my little “friend”: the scare quote. And to introduce him, let me bring out my other little friend: The Chicago Manual of Style.

Chicago decrees (and we always do what Chicago decrees) that scare quotes “are often used to alert readers that a term is used in a nonstandard, ironic, or other special sense. . . . They imply, ‘This is not my term’ or ‘This is not how the term is usually applied.’”

Now take a look at the introduction to this post. Why is the word friend in quotes? Obviously there is some double meaning you’re missing here. Perhaps the scare quote and I are not in fact such good friends (good guess). Perhaps the scare quote and I are a little more than friends (weird guess). Or perhaps I am just using the scare quotes incorrectly (the right guess).

There are two instances when scare quotes are most often used incorrectly:
1) to emphasize a word
2) to show that a word is important

Even when using scare quotes correctly, do so sparingly or they quickly lose their force. Like all literary devices, they can add to your writing when used correctly or they can take away from your credibility when used incorrectly.

Editorial consensus: When in doubt, ditch the scare quotes.

1 comment:

Tamster said...

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