This Halloween, we\u2019re looking at the spookiest punctuation mark\u2026 the scare quote! Okay, we might be stretching there. Scare quotes are neither spooky nor supernatural. In fact, the scariest thing about them is that they\u2019re often used incorrectly, leading to errors in writing.\n\nBut what exactly are scare quotes? And when should you use them?\nWhat Are Scare Quotes?\nUsually, quote marks indicate that you\u2019re using someone else\u2019s words. In fiction, they\u2019re also used for spoken dialogue.\n\nBut neither of these are what people mean by \u2018scare quotes\u2019. Instead, these quote marks show we\u2019re using a word in a non-literal sense. This includes:\n\n \tShowing that a term is non-standard, colloquial or slang.\n \tIndicating that you are using a term ironically.\n \tExpressing disapproval over how a word has been used.\n\nFor example, if we disagreed with someone\u2019s advice, we might write:\nMany \u2018experts\u2019 offer bad advice on punctuation.\nHere, we\u2019ve put the word \u2018experts\u2019 in quote marks to show that we think the people offering bad advice are not experts at all. This is a bit like adding \u2018so-called\u2019 in front of a word to indicate disapproval or doubt.\n\nYou can also use scare quotes to introduce borrowed terminology:\nThis is reminiscent of what Max Weber called \u2018elective affinities\u2019.\nFor instance, we\u2019re not quoting a specific line from one of Weber\u2019s published works above. Nor are we expressing disapproval of how Weber used \u2018elective affinities\u2019. Rather, we've put quote marks around the term to show we\u2019ve taken it from somewhere else rather than inventing it.\n\nThis is an acceptable usage, but you should only use quote marks around a term like this when you first introduce it. After that, your reader will know where it came from, so further \u2018scare quotes\u2019 are redundant.\nStyle Guides and Scare Quoting\nAs with most aspects of writing, different style guides have different rules about scare quotes. As such, if you\u2019re working to a style guide, make sure to look for advice about this kind of punctuation.\n\nFor now, let\u2019s look at how three major style guides approach this issue:\n\n \tAPA \u2013 The APA recommends using scare quotes \u2018To introduce a word or phrase used as an ironic comment, as slang, or as an invented or coined expression. Use quotation marks the first time the word or phrase is used; thereafter, do not use quotation marks.\u2019\n \tChicago \u2013 The CMoS says quote marks can be \u2018used to alert readers that a term is used in a nonstandard, ironic, or other special sense\u2019, but it also warns that \u2018scare quotes lose their force and irritate readers if overused.\u2019\n \tMLA \u2013 The MLA says scare quotes \u2018distance an author from a term\u2019 to show irony, scepticism or derision. However, they also \u2018recommend against using them\u2019 and suggest 'using them sparingly and with explanation' if you do decide to use them anywhere in your writing.\n\nIn general, then, scare quotes are accepted by these style guides. However, they all also warn against overusing quote marks of this type.\nTop Tips for \u2018Scare Quoting\u2019\nAs you may have gathered from the information above, the meaning of a \u2018scare quote\u2019 can depend on the context. Some authors only use them to express disapproval. But if you\u2019re simply borrowing someone else\u2019s terminology, the quotation marks don\u2019t have to suggest irony.\n\n[caption id="attachment_12292" align="aligncenter" width="400"] A scary quote, but not a scare quote.[\/caption]\n\nIn addition, overuse can make a document look messy. Thus, you should always use scare quotes sparingly and, even then, only if you\u2019re sure your reader will understand why you are using them.\n\nIf you do scare quote, though, make sure to follow these handy tips:\n\n \tNEVER use scare quotes for emphasis.\n \tMake sure your reader can tell you\u2019re not quoting something directly.\n \tIf you introduce a borrowed term, only use quote marks the first time.\n \tDo not use both \u2018so-called\u2019 and scare quotes for a single word.\n\nAnd if you need help with the punctuation \u2013 scary or otherwise \u2013 in a document you\u2019ve written, just let us know.