Scary “Quotes”

I am lining up things to write…maybe have a big clear-thru of pieces later today. In the meantime, I will pick up on one minor issue from a blog that I have just discovered and am already very much enjoying.

So I hope they won’t mind my taking a slightly dissident position on this, before going on to pirate mercilessly from what looks like otherwise excellent material.

The site is tabloid watch. My remarks are about the use of what I have now seen some people refer to as “scare quotes”.

In this instance, tabloid watch picks up on a story in the Mail that does the usual Mail thing, belittling attempts to tackle homophobic bullying in school, spreading disinformation…and all the rest.

At one point, however, the Mail is quoted as stating:

“A fresh move to ban children from using the word ‘gay’ as an insult was made by Schools Secretary Ed Balls last night…His department is now set to publish new guidance to crack down on ‘sexist and sexual’ bullying.”
Tabloid watch then criticises this, claiming them to be “totally unecessary quote marks”. I just don’t get that.

In school, I learnt to use quote marks when one was quoting an extract from someone else’s speech or taking an extract from a document. In respect of both uses of quote marks here, the Mail is doing just that. They are talking about “the word ‘gay’” (see what I just did!): and they are citing an extract from departmental guidelines.

I would do exactly the same in reporting the story – though without the homophobic slant.

I only ask this because I’ve seen individuals criticise the Mail – and other papers – for using quote marks when it strikes me that it would be wholly inappropriate to do anything else. They are a way of separating what you, as author, are saying from the words of someone you are citing.

People refer to them as “scare marks” – which I can only think is drawn from the way in which it has become vogue in recent5 years to undercut a particular statement or concept by raising two hands in the air and making bunny ear shapes as one speaks. Like going: “It’s a basic living requirement”, whilst simultaneously raising hands and fingers to indicate one’s intense scepticism that 24/7 live porn streaming is actually any such thing.

And yes: people do use quote marks that way…but only face to face – and that in no way invalidates their use in context, where they should be used in much the way they always have been.



About janefae

On my way from here to there
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