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Scare Quotes

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"You know what's funny, Ken? Even over the phone I can hear the quotation marks around the word 'cumulative.'"
Al Franken, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, fictional dialogue with Ken Lay

A form of "Sarcasm Mode" whereby a writer encloses a term in quotation marks.

The "aim" is to typically make it clear that the term is one the writer would not typically use, and that they are, "for that term", speaking with a voice which is not their own.

The typical implication is that the term is some manner of "euphemism" that the writer finds "obnoxious", but uses anyway because it is widely understood.

It can also be used to disparage a particular claim. If a work or person claims to be something, a person would put that in "Scare Quotes" to suggest, without explicitly stating it, "This is what they say they are but they are really not."

May or may not be used in conjunction with "Inappropriate Capitalization", which makes a general concept sound like a "Trademarked Product".

In "non-text" media, may be indicated by a sarcastic emphasis, but more likely will be indicated by so-called "Air Quotes".

May overlap with Sarcastic Title if used in a work's title.


Anime and Manga

  • 'Tis Time for "Torture," Princess: In nearly all instances, up to and including the manga's title, the word "Torture" is depicted in quotation marks. This is because the "tortures" used to force the Princess to talk would be cases of Poke the Poodle if they didn't regularly work and make the Princess give up a secret. Such "tortures" include delicious food the Princess has never eaten before, delicious food she has eaten before with a new twist, playing with cute and cuddly animals, playing with cute and cuddly kids such as the Hell-Lord's preschool daughter Mao-Mao-chan, and playing games with other demons as her friends.

Comic Books

  • Chick Tracts: In case you didn't get that Chick doesn't view Catholicism as legitimate, in "Papa" he makes a reference to "Saint" Augustine.

Film — Animated

  • The LEGO Movie: Done around the number 10 in the "10 Seconds Later" screen, which happens after Vitruvius directs the party upstairs in said time...before slamming into a door.
  • Zootopia: Nick's pawpsicle stand is labeled "organic", complete with scare quotes.

Film — Live-Action

  • The American Friend: Nicholas Ray's character is identified in the credits with scare quotes as "Derwatt", because he's forging Derwatts.
  • The Black Pirate: Fairbanks, improvising madly after Dove is discovered on the ship they just seized, proclaims her a princess and convinces the other pirates to hold her for ransom. He's making this up, as shown when he uses scare quotes to refer to the "princess" when sending a note calling for help.
  • Foolish Wives: Just in case the audience was wondering, one title refers to one of the fake princesses as Sergius's "cousin".
  • The Half-Breed: A title card promises a "specimen of the 'Superior' white man", and then the film cuts to a shot of the town drunk.
  • Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny: Starring JAY CLARK as SANTA, and "KIDS" from RUTH FOREMAN'S PIED PIPER PLAYHOUSE, implying that whoever did the opening titles was skeptical of their ages or acting ability.


  • 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die: The entry for Ran refers to its runtime as a "mere" two hours and forty minutes.
  • Apparently scare quotes date at least as far back as 1864 and Robert Browning's "Mr. Sludge, 'The Medium'", about a con man fake medium that gets caught.
  • "The Craft of the Adventure": From the closing section discussing how games are never truly finished:
    Roughly 300 bugs in 'Curses' have been spotted since it was released publically two years ago (I have received well over a thousand email messages on the subject), and that was after play-testing had been "finished".


  • David Bowie's "Heroes": Both the album and its title song have quotation marks as part of the title.
  • Bob Dylan: The title of his 2001 album is shown as "Love And Theft" on the cover, which has led to some confusion over whether the quotes are officially part of the title and, if so, why they're there. (Not exactly Word of God, but includes the quote marks in its listing for the album).
  • SiIvaGunner: (Metal) Ajit Pai's lone promotional rip in the first tournament has a pair in the description:
    """Arrangement""": SmokyThrill77


  • Trustfell: Walter White is an "entrepreneur," not an entrepreneur.

Video Games

  • Dungeonmans: Mage-type armor, robes and cloaks and the like, are referred to as Light 'Armor'.
  • My Little Pony (Gameloft): In "The Pinkie Parents Problem" event, Lyra tells Pinkie a "hypothetical" story about "two totally made-up twin ponies" and their parents to get around not being able to directly tell her about the Cakes' future. At the end of the story, Pinkie's playing along with the charade is indicated through the use of scare quotes around her words.
    Pinkie: Hmm… I see! And, just to make extra specially sure, these "parents"… they're "made up" and "hypothetical" too. "Right?"
  • RuneScape has Braindeath 'rum', an incredibly toxic beverage that gives actual rum a bad name: it's brewed from such ingredients as stagnant water (collected from a dormant volcano), sluglings (young sea slugs), blindweed (an inedible herb with a foul smell), and the corpse of a fever spider (a Slayer monster that is riddled with disease and infects its victims by biting them). For whatever reason, pirates across Gielinor are addicted to the stuff. Examining a bottle of 'rum' indicates that the stuff eats through the bottle, and drinking it has the game point out how the player character is trying very hard not to die.
    Captain Braindeath: Well, see, it's like this. If we called the stuff we make 'rum' without makin' the little quote gestures every time, then the Cookin' Guild has promised to do entertainingly painful things to us with whisks. See, technically - and by that I mean technically according to the Disposal of Hazardous Waste Act and the Health and Safety Laws - technically, what we're brewin' here is Artificially Produced Hyper Condensed Sweetened 'Rum' Flavour Distillate.
    Player: Riiiiiiiight...
    Captain Braindeath: So ye see, we just call it 'rum' because the real name be a bit of a mouthful. Want a drop?
    Player: No thanks... I think I'll skip it for now.

Web Animation


  • Awful Hospital: In comic 637, Scissie and Scissane use winks along with scare quotes to indicate that they know "Tori" is not really "Tori":
    Scissie: [winking] Oh, of course, "Tori" really oughta be more careful with that stolen I.D!
  • Demon Street: When Essie tells Norn that she's been collecting "physical objects", the speech bubble includes quote marks around her words to emphasize her strangeness and for Rule of Funny.
    Essie: […] I've been collecting things lately. You know, "physical objects?"
  • Questionable Content: When Bubbles says slang terms, her speech bubbles include quote marks around them. Faye says she can hear the quote marks, and Bubbles says it's because of micro-pauses.

Web Video

  • Spectrum Pulse: Expect any country song Grondin dislikes to have its genre listed in the subtitles as 'Pop "country"'.

Western Animation

Alternative Title(s): Sneer Quotes