11 May 2007

A Quotation Mark Question

I've noticed recently that many of my students use single quotation marks to indicate irony. For instance, they'll write:
He had such 'beautiful' hair I couldn't help but say, "Hey, Joe, is your barber a sadist?"
I wonder if this is a development from email or IM or something, because it's easier to put single quotes around a bit of text than to italicize it. It's an interesting differentiation, too, because traditionally (in U.S. usage) double quotes have been able to indicate either a quotation or irony (scare quotes), which can be annoying, of course, but it seems to be a generally accepted usage. I actually kind of like the newer usage; there's a certain cleanliness to it.

What do people in countries where single quotes are the norm do? Does the phenomenon I'm describing even exist outside the U.S.? Does it exist outside my classroom? (Actually, I've seen one blogger do it, so I'm pretty sure it does.) Is this is usage with a long history that I'm oblivious to?


  1. I use it as a way to differentiate between sarcasm and actual quotes. If you were to use double quotation several times in a paragraph for both sarcastic highlight and also to quote something someone said, it gets a bit confusing as to which is the sarcastic quotation and which is the actual quotation.

    So for me it is a subtle way to differentiate between the type of quote intended.

    I've read a few blog posts noting that there's no need to use quotes for sarcastic remarks, which is probably true but it's still fun to do anyway. It's like the talking hand motion to express mockery of someone who talks too much. :)

  2. I'd never use double quotation marks for sarcasm - I'd use single quotation marks. I've been using single quotation marks for speech too for the last few years. Seems to be house rules in many places and I've got to like the look of them more too. It seems less cluttered.

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  4. I see no reason for single or double quotation marks to indicate sarcasm, which ought to indicate itself. In a pinch, I prefer italics.

  5. I also think sarcasm ought to be evident from context. And like Clare, I prefer single quotation marks for their neatness, or even none at all.

  6. I tend to use single quotes any time I want to mark out a word for particular emphasis, whether for sarcastic purposes or because I'm discussing the word itself (e.g., "When using a term like 'effervescent' it pays to make sure you know what it means, first.").

  7. Here in the UK we use single quotes for speech. There are no conventions for irony that I know of. As someone already mentioned it should be evident from usage what is or is not irony.
    I know I wouldn't place irony within quotation marks, but that's a personal choice.