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Posted August 8, 2011


In the past, I've read a couple of blogs where writers have issues with some words or phrases that are emphasized with quotation marks. Do we use quotation marks to emphasis or italicize? Since most editors and agents use the Chicago Manual of Style (for purposes of this article called The Tome), I decided to see what The Tome had to say about the subject. (Rather than muddying the water with putting quotation marks around quoted material, whatever I'm quoting will be in blue.)

Checking in Chapter 7 -- 7.49 says, Italics for emphasis. Good writers use italics for emphasis only as an occasional adjunct to efficient sentence structure. Overused, italics quickly lose their force. Seldom should as much as a sentence be italicized for emphasis, and never a whole passage. In the first example below, the last three words, though clearly emphatic, do not require italics because of their commanding position in the sentence.

The damaging evidence was offered not by the arresting officer, not by the injured plaintiff, but by the boy's own mother.

In the following examples the emphasis would be lost without the italics.

Let us dwell for a moment on the idea of conscious participation.

How do we learn to think in terms of wholes?

7.60 Quoted phrases. Phrases quoted from another context, recognizable to readers, are often enclosed in quotation marks, with no source given. Discretion is required; in the last two examples below, quotation marks are not needed (though they would not be incorrect), since the phrases have become common expressions.

Marilyn did not willingly "suffer the little ones" to enter her studio.


The pursuit of happiness is a practice more often defended than defined.

Myths of paradise lost are common in folklore.

And here's what The Tome has to say about quotation marks and slang:

7.61 Slang. Terms considered slang or argot should be enclosed in quotation marks only if they are foreign to the normal vocabulary of the writer or likely to be unfamiliar to readers. Quotation marks should not be used for mere colloquialisms.

Had it not been for Bryce, the "copper's nark," Collins would have made his escape.


I grew up in a one-horse town.

Only techies will appreciate this joke.

What is he beefing about this time?

7.62 Although italics are the traditional choice, quotation marks may be more appropriate in certain contexts. The Spanish verbs ser and estar are both rendered by "to be."

I think the reason readers are being turned off by "quotation marked" words or phrases is because they're sometimes misused or overused. 7.59 says, "So-called." A word or phrase preceded by so-called should not be enclosed in quotation marks. The expression itself indicates irony or doubt.

So-called child protection sometimes fails to protect.

Her so-called mentor induced her to embezzle from the company.

But here's the one I love.

7.58 "Scare Quotes." Quotation marks are often used to alert readers that a term is used in a nonstandard, ironic, or other special sense. Nicknamed "scare quotes," they imply, "This is not my term" or "This is not how the term is usually applied." Like any such device, scare quotes lose their force and irritate readers if overused.

The crux of the entire matter of the so-called to-quote-or-not-to-quote issue can be scary stuff -- no one wants to irritate an editor, agent, or readers.

In calling it a wrap, just remember if you're guilty of overusing "scare quotes," -- whether you're writing sweet love stories or blood thirsty thrillers to scare your readers -- you will be boo'd.

By: TwitterButtons.com

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