Inverted commas

Going around my local shops yesterday, I noticed the following sign outside my butcher’s:
"fresh" chicken legs
I don’t quite understand what they wanted to achieve here with these inverted commas. When they don’t introduce a quote, inverted commas are generally used to indicate that a word is intended to mean something slightly different from what it actually does mean.
For example,
Janine "accidentally" killed Barry.
Although she claims she didn’t mean to push him off a cliff, the fact that she ran down to laugh at him as he laid dying and didn’t call for an ambulance suggests that it might not have been a complete accident.
I like the way Lynne Truss explains this use of inverted commas in Eats Shoots and Leaves. In a newspaper, for example, they, "are understood by readers to mean that there is some authority for this story; perhaps even a quotable source, but that the newspaper itself won’t yet state it as fact. (…) "PIZZAS" in inverted commas suggests these might be pizzas, but nobody’s promising anything, and if they turn out to be cardboard with a bit of cheese on top, you can’t say you weren’t warned."
Needless to say, there were no "fresh" chicken legs on the menu last night.

By | 2016-10-18T15:52:04+00:00 March 31st, 2004|Technical corner|2 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. Mark April 1, 2004 at 5:41 am

    I have wondered the same thing many times. Then I once read an article that said that what appear to us to be quotation marks are actually called “flashes” by sign painters who use them simply to set off words, much the way someone writing plain text email messages might use asterisks to denote *words in italitcs.*
    However, I can’t find any backup on the web for these so-called “flashes.”

  2. Margaret April 1, 2004 at 2:45 pm

    Enjoy The Gallery of “Misused” Quotation Marks at .

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