Friends of Semantic Compositions

January 2009

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Site Statistics

Blog powered by Typepad

« Violets and primroses | Main | SC's brain, mapped »

May 23, 2005


language hat

That's not a scare quote, it's just an ordinary misuse of quotes to give emphasis, such as you can see in shop windows everywhere. As such, it doesn't fall within the purview of Pullum's classification. Scare quotes are used to cast doubt on the word(s) quoted.

polyglot conspiracy

Oh, how I wish, I WISH, this sign said

Sorry, say "no" to credit cards


There's a sign here in Charlottesville that similarly reads:

"Best" Cards in Town!

You're like, "Well, WHO said they're the best? I need proof!"

And, yes, like quotes around things on menus (which, if I remember correctly, The Original Pancake House is guilty of using), there's no meaning added there. I'm thinking there must be something trendy about quotes, in a decorative sense, and that's why people use them in this way.

Also there's a very very very small possibility that the "no" is ironic, so that credit cards really are allowed and the sign is a joke. You should go up to the counter and pull out a credit card, and when they point you disapprovingly to the sign, say, "But it says 'no' credit cards," using airquotes.

Semantic Compositions

LH: You're right that they're not really scare quotes. I just found myself asking what they could possibly mean.

PC: I really wish I could try that idea of yours about pulling out the credit card. But they have an extremely antiquated cash register that looks like it might predate transistors, never mind computerized registers. It would be hard for me to keep a straight face while pretending that I thought that thing might even possibly work with credit cards.

eric morse

PC: Here's a story that underlines your thinking that folks see quotes as trendy...
I designed the cover for a fitness DVD. The producer asked me to put "Four Stars! The ultimate all-body workout!" at the top (The 4 stars were actual stars, to make it look like a movie review). I asked him to whom I should credit the quote. He said no one actually said it (like, duh). I asked him where the 4 stars came from, and he said it was just a way to show his product was really good. Since he was writing the check, the discussion ended there.

Jonathan K. Cohen

This may be an unduly lit-crit reading, but could the "No" in the sentence be intended to be read as appearing in the less-mediated voice of the proprietor? A sort of interpellative?

BTW, I love the OPH, and if there weren't such vast lines on weekends, I would probably eat there every other week. As it is, my wife and I haven't been there in a year.


I'm in agreement with LH, but interpreting them as scare quotes can lead to some unintended (on the part of the sign-writer) hilarity.

I heard from a friend that his co-worker put this note on a computer that needed to be on all the time:

Do "not" turn off this computer.

I told him to go turn it off, because that was obviously what the co-worker wanted, right?

The comments to this entry are closed.