Everybody knows that quotation marks are for when you want to show that you’re exactly duplicating what someone said (or wrote).
I hope everybody knows that you don’t put quotation marks unnecessarily on grocery store signs and restaurant bulletin boards. Those illiterate quotation marks positively curdle my blood. I’ve been known to get out my handkerchief and erase them. Well, once, maybe, on a dry erase board. Usually I’m too polite, but that misuse still makes me cringe. Here (shudder) are two egregious examples of this profanation of English:
I got them by googling images for “grocery store quotation marks.” Go look yourself if you want to spend some time cringing at the ones I didn’t pick.
But these horrors are related to a legitimate use of quotation marks—when you want to make a tongue-in-cheek apology for something, to call attention to it, to indicate that you really mean something like its opposite. Today I learned the name for this kind of quotation mark. I’ll let the person who showed me the name tell you:
One of the two classes I’m teaching this term is our sophomore-level “modern physics” class, which richly deserves its scare quotes.
Thank you, Chad Orzel, contributor to Forbes in an article titled “Why Do We Spend So Much Time Teaching Historical Physics?”
Oh yes, that’s another use for quotation marks: to identify written works that are parts of other written works, such as articles in a magazine.