Scare Quotes Exercise (653)

In each sentence, determine whether quotation marks are required or recommended around a word or phrase for clarification.

Answers and Explanations

1.
Original: Security forces will eventually set up permanent posts as part of a "pacification" program that began in 2008.
Correct : Security forces will eventually set up permanent posts as part of a "pacification" program that began in 2008.

This use of scare quotes distances the writer from a term that is questionable because it is vague and disingenuous; in this case, the quotation marks should be retained.

2.
Original: Are metrics connected to expenditures in ways that will allow the organization to answer questions about what kind of "return on investment" it got?
Correct : Are metrics connected to expenditures in ways that will allow the organization to answer questions about what kind of return on investment it got?

The phrase "return on investment" needs no emphasis; it is used literally and is clear in meaning as is.

3.
Original: He didn’t give special treatment to so-called "big-name" players on the team.
Correct : He didn’t give special treatment to so-called big-name players on the team.

"So-called" informs readers that the word or phrase that follows is suspect, so quotation marks around the word or phrase intended to emphasize its dubious nature are redundant.

4.
Original: This "safe haven" doesn’t seem very safe to me.
Correct : This "safe haven" doesn’t seem very safe to me.

Even more explicitly than in the first sentence in this set, the quotation marks in this sentence are necessary; they indicate that the writer is skeptical about the claim implied by the term "safe haven," so they are integral to the meaning of the sentence.

5.
Original: Middle managers are critical "cogs" in the system.
Correct : Middle managers are critical cogs in the system.

Even though "cogs" is used figuratively here, the meaning is clear, so no quotation marks are needed.

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