More about "scare quotes"


Oklahoma City blogger Charles G. Hill over at Dustbury linked to my item about scare quotes in the District 4 City Council race. His first paragraph links to an example of Reuters' use of scare quotes, and that article links to this Weekly Standard column by Alan Jacobs, Wheaton College Professor of English, about the use of scare quotes in coverage of the War on Terror, and how they are a ready substitute for serious analysis and debate.

(Scare quotes are also sometimes called "sneer quotes", which comes closer to conveying the attitude of the writer who uses them.)

Scare quotes have two functions, the first of which is quite straightforward: They allow their users very easily to express incredulity about, and often contempt for, the views of their political opponents. But they also allow those users to avoid the hard work of thinking up their own descriptions of events or people or ideas. And they're parasitic: They suck all their nourishment from the host words, contributing nothing of their own. Fisk's sneer quotes--he's not as scary as he'd like to be--allow him to express his revulsion at the very notion of describing what's happening in Iraq as "liberation," but relieve him of the obligation to say just what he thinks is happening in that city. Is it (as many left-wing critics have said) a new form of colonization? Ah, but that is a claim too easily refuted, unless one wishes to stretch the term beyond all historical recognition. Is it occupation? But if so, we would need to have a conversation about the purposes of occupation, some of which can be better than others. This is all too complicated; it's so much simpler to wheel out the trusty old inverted commas.

(I have a suspicion also that many journalists, even those most addicted to the scare quote, would say that it's their job merely to report, to describe--leave it to the editorialists and news analysts to offer positive explanations. But it is surely a curious understanding of reporting that allows the journalist merely, and just typographically, to cast doubt on the claims of others, without offering any reasons for that doubt or any alternatives to those claims.)

Read the whole thing, then go visit and get caught up on life at the other end of the Turner Turnpike.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on March 15, 2004 10:56 PM.

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