Scare Quotes Exercise (678)

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

Answers and Explanations

1.
Original: Earlier this month, California governor Jerry Brown signed "The Right to Record Act."
Correct : Earlier this month, California governor Jerry Brown signed the Right to Record Act.

Titles of legislative acts do not require quotation marks (and note that "the" is not part of the act’s title and is therefore not capitalized).

2.
Original: Instead, paid drivers known as "coyotes" whisked the boys to Ohio.
Correct : Instead, paid drivers known as coyotes whisked the boys to Ohio.

Newspapers often place potentially unfamiliar slang terms in quotation marks to indicate that the words are not being used literally, but doing so is unnecessary, especially because the definition of the term is provided here immediately before it.

3.
Original: Smith described the hearing as a "show trial."
Correct : Smith described the hearing as a "show trial."

When a loaded word or phrase (one that is controversial or has other implications) is attributed to a person, it is important to place the term in quotation marks to clarify that the publication is reporting the person’s precise wording and not attributing such language to someone who did not use it.

4.
Original: The majority of patients with colorectal cancer have "sporadic" cancer, meaning that the genetic changes that triggered the cancer do not seem connected to inherited genetic traits.
Correct : The majority of patients with colorectal cancer have sporadic cancer, meaning that the genetic changes that triggered the cancer do not seem connected to inherited genetic traits.

"Sporadic" is being used here in an unusual sense specific to a precise subject area (medicine), but the definition is provided, so quotation marks are superfluous.

5.
Original: This allowed her to step out of her "comfort zone."
Correct : This allowed her to step out of her comfort zone.

Nonliteral use of an idiom, as here, does not require that the phrase be enclosed in quotation marks; it is clear that "comfort zone" is not a literal term referring to a physical location in which comfort is provided.

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