My thoughts on the scare quotes issue

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2005/11/16 01:01 -08:00, original URI:

The other day in The Language Log, Mark Lieberman mentioned about how "even Reuters, contrary to its stated policy against using the words terrorist and terrorism outside of quotation marks, sometimes uses these words in headlines and news stories".

I have a theory about this, from my own experiences in blogging and hyperlinks and having had an email friendly name with quotations.

Headlines often have to be used in plain text, without special markup (regardless of special formatting used in headline styles). And the use of either single or double quotes raises hell with parsers that are trying to list the headlines, which means they have to be escaped or NCR-ized (i.e. convert to " rather than using ").

Perhaps the Reuter's variation to policy in headlines predates the online world, but it easy to imagine that any kind of mechanized system for news reporting could have the same types of issues.

If the variation to the policy in headlines predates mechanized typing, then it would just be a happy coincidence that the variation was also a technical convenience. :-)


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# Maurits on Wednesday, November 16, 2005 11:05 AM:


Two quotes from /Citizen Kane/ come to mind...


He was trying to take the quotes off the "singer"

# Rickey on Friday, December 30, 2005 12:47 AM:

As interesting as your thoery sounds, there are also quesitons of deeper significance that you might want to ask Reuters, and perhaps you have. Is it offical Reuters policy to be factually accurate? If the answer is yes, then we might expect that Reuters has put considerable time and energy into arriving a solution to this technical puzzle. If no, then Reuters has merely dismissed the important difference between allegations and facts, inviting a number of consequences for which it must take full responsibility.

It is not surprising, though instructive, that Reuters does not deviate from the unanimous media in not applying the word terrorism even with quotation marks to any activity of the United States. Exploring a basic definition of terrorism might also reveal some interesting results.

RA Gostenik
Rio de Janeiro

# Michael S. Kaplan on Friday, December 30, 2005 10:08 AM:

On Language Log, Mark looked at linguistic issues. I looked at perhaps some more technical reasons. I am not sure the issues you refer to are really inscope for either of us....

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