Thursday, April 23, 2009

You can quote me on this

A while back, someone ridiculed me for using air quotes on this blog. I didn't correct him, but I'll confess to having been a little annoyed by his ignorance. I had actually used scare quotes, and I did use them correctly.

Today I came across an amusing blog. At least, I think it's a blog. There's some confusion because of its title, "The 'Blog' of 'Unnecessary' Quotation Marks." But before you click over there for a couple of laughs, let's do a little quotation-mark review.

No, wait a sec. First I'd like to mention that the British have some crazy notions about quotation marks. They use singles when they should be using doubles, and vice versa. For example:

'You are doing it all wrong,' she said.

Which is of course all wrong. The dear Brits are stingy with their quotation marks, and won't use a double one unless they're enclosing a quotation inside of a quotation. Like so:

'Oy!' Basil punched his companion's shoulder. 'Can't you hear them playing "God Save the Queen"? On your feet, yank!'

But never mind all that. As the Brits have shown no interest in removing the superfluous vowels from their "colours" and "favours", we probably shouldn't hold out any hope that they'll come to their senses about double and single quotation marks, either. So let's get back to air quotes.

Trust me, you have never seen air quotes on this blog. That's because air quotes is (are?) a hand gesture. To make it (them?) you must raise both arms, fist your hands, and then extend the first two fingers of each hand. Now, crook your fingers. Try it sometime when you're making clever conversation at a party and want to convey that a certain word or phrase is what someone else has said or might say and is not how you would characterize whatever it is you're describing. For example:

"Even though I told him it was going to rain, my [insert air quotes here] 'genius' boyfriend left the top down on my convertible!"

Scare quotes are the written form of air quotes. Like air quotes, they are not employed to indicate a direct quotation, but to allow the writer to use certain words and phrases while maintaining a careful distance from them. Scare quotes allow a writer to say, "Don't blame me if you don't agree with this use of the word or phrase I've just highlighted." A writer uses scare quotes to cast doubt on a subject or even to ridicule it; her tone might be scathing or humorous or just about anything in between.

The "clever" guy who jeered at my "overuse" of "air" quotes will probably never read this blog entry. But it's my hope that a few other people might find it entertaining and informative.


LauraLee Shaw said...

Oh, you are hilarious. Great stuff here. I am the "Queen" of using these, but I didn't know what "they" were called.

What do you call it when you interject adjectives or emotions with a * around them? I use those a lot too. *Shock*

Brenda Coulter said...

Glad I could shed some light on the subject for you. ;-)

As to the asterisks, in many places on the internet and in some e-mail programs, it's not possible to italicize words. So asterisks are used to set a word or phrase apart for emphasis.

Hope you're having a *very* good day.

Delia said...

I have to confess that I'd never heard of scare quotes before. Well, I'd heard of them, I just didn't know what they were called. Thanks :)I love learning new things.

I also have to confess that I'm terrible about using air quotes when I'm being sarcastic. It's a horrible habit I should walk away from.

Anonymous said...

Excellent explanation. In our house we have a different name for air quotes, because our daughter learned to use them long before she knew what a quotation mark was in its written form. One day when she was about 4 or 5, she said something and did the "air quote" hand gesture and I said, "Emma, do you know what these [imitating the gesture back at her] are?" After a moment's careful thought she said, "...bunnies?"

So, for better or worse, they're "bunny quotes" to us now.

Brenda Coulter said...

Bunny quotes. I like that.

Carla Gade said...

Very enlightening.

Dreams of Fate said...

Ah, but brit english is way better than its american counterpart =/