Scarequotes are a form of downplayer (I’d posted on them and what I call the scarequote exercise earlier HERE) — you use them when you invoke the vocabulary of the opposition, but to call attention to how false the vocabulary is.Â And so, when you introduce the opposition’s experts, you call them “experts,” and thereby you are on record for holding that they are only so-called experts. It’s a form of indirect discourse, like sarcasm or irony.Â But it’s the club-instead-of-scalpel form of indirect discouse.Â Now check out George Neumayr’s post over at the American Spectator and his use of the scare quote to address those who support gay marrige:
Were the people on their side, they wouldnâ€™t need to doctor â€œsocial scienceâ€ to justify their propaganda. They wouldnâ€™t need to use judicial activists to undo democratic results. They wouldnâ€™t need to ignore the written Constitution in favor of a â€œlivingâ€ one.
Plenty of regimes that no longer exist once thought themselves on the â€œright side of history.â€
There’s plenty more, but it would require more work contextualizing than it’s worth.Â Here’s the weird thing: most of it doesn’t actually make sense.Â Take the first use of scare quotes.Â Unless Neumayr doesn’t think there’s any legitimate social science, the claim that doctored “social science” is being used by the opposition is a form of double-dipping.Â Why not say just ‘doctored social science’?Â What does doctoring so-called social science do?Â In fact, that seems counter-productive for all sides.Â Â The same goes for the “right side of history” downplayer, too.Â Nobody he’s invoking thought they were only on the so-called right side of history.Â Notice further that Neumayr’s thoughts aren’t clarified by adding the scarequotes — you can get the message that he thinks the social science is illegitimate, that the written constitution is preferable to the doctrine of a living constitution, and that those who believe they are on the right side of history are regularly wrong.Â In every case, scarequoting in attributing thoughts to others confuses what’s so-called and what’s being attributed.Â Scarequoting like that is just sloppy writing.
I’ll perform the scarequote exercise from earlier below, taking the last few sentences from my previous paragraph.
Notice further that Neumayr’s “thoughts” aren’t clarified by adding the scarequotes — you can get the “message” that he thinks the social science is illegitimate, that the written constitution is preferable to the doctrine of a living constitution, and that those who believe they are on the right side of history are regularly wrong.Â In every case, scarequoting in attributing thoughts to others confuses what’s so-called and what’s being attributed.Â Scarequoting like that is just sloppy “writing”.
Now that’s how you use a scarequote! And, again, notice that it’s mostly just cheapshots.
2 thoughts on “Scarequote overkill”
Just a thought, but sometimes when I use quotes around single terms, I actually am quoting someone else’s use of a word to draw attention to the fact that it was my interlocutor’s word choice rather than mine. This can sometimes serve a rhetorical device as well to invite the reader to take a more critical stance toward the term’s use in a particular discursive context.
So, with this in mind, I think the “social science” scarequotes still show a fundamental misunderstanding of how rhetorical quoting should be used (unless the author truly is skeptical of social science altogether) but the use of quotes around “living” indicates the author’s critical stance toward the idea of a “living constitution”, which doesn’t seem completely ridiculous.
A nice point, that often quote-marks are used for mention purposes. So were I to want to just call attention to a word, I’d use single-quote marks to call attention to the word as a word. So, for example: ‘art’ is a three letter word. Now, in North-American English, a regular way to distinguish use and mention quoting is to have double marks for use and single for mention. Not everyone follows that rule, and my English publisher (Bloomsbury) actually inverts it. So it’s not a hard and fast rule, but a useful one nonetheless.
Scarequoting is in a strange twilight zone between use and mention. You’re, when scarequoting, clearly mentioning the term, as you are calling attention to the fact that this very term is used by the opposition. But there’s a kind of implicit use of the term, too, as you’re nevertheless invoking the concept of SOCIAL SCIENCE when scarequoting what the opposition’s so-called social science. So I’m inclined to agree with you that the ‘living constitution’ scarequote could go either way. But given the overall tone of the piece, it’s more plausibly a scarequote than to just attribute a commitment.
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