Monday, July 14, 2008

Tip of the Week

Let's talk about scare quotes. Here's what CMS says:

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. . . . Like any such device, scare quotes lose their force and irritate readers if overused.

Oh, how true.

Wait, I need to geek-out for a moment: I love how CMS puts the term in quotes. Hilarious.

Many authors use scare quotes as a form of emphasis. Do not do this. It makes no sense when you buckle down and take a long, hard look at it. Consider:

"Forensic" material can help establish a criminal's guilt.

Obviously, forensic is an important word in this sentence, and the author would like to stress it as such. Perhaps this is a potential vocabulary word. This may seem like a good idea, but this is how the current sentence reads:

So-called forensic material can help establish a criminal's guilt.

Unless this sentence is from a book entitled Forensic Science Isn't Real: 101 Conspiracy Theories, we need to adhere to the notion that forensics is a branch of science. I wouldn't say,

"Genetics" is the reason I have blonde hair.

If I don't believe in genetics, this sentence is dead-on; and it would be a great addition to my book DNA, the Hidden Truth: Scientists Broke Up My Family.

Try using boldface or italics to stress important words in your text—but make sure to be consistent!

And remember, don't overuse scare quotes. Think about that really sarcastic friend you have, the person you can't say anything to without a scathing comment zinging back in return. (If you lack this friend, just think about Chandler from Friends.) When you overuse scare quotes, you become that friend. In written form. You and I may lack the courage to hang up on our annoying friend, but a reader can always put down a book.