I understand the need to quote someone without using your hands. Example:

Alice said Bob quote intervened unquote.

This, I understand. Her use of the word "intervened" was a direct quote.

My question:

Some times, someone will say

quote unquote

in the middle of a sentence, with no word in between. What's the purpose of this?

PS. The word "quote" just lost all meaning in my head. Sorry if my post has the same effect on you.

  • 1
    About your PS: this is called semantic satiation.
    – user230
    Jul 12, 2014 at 22:01
  • It may be that the signal quote unquote means that the following sentence or phrase or even paragraph is a direct quote, until the speaker signals or says otherwise that the quoted portion has stopped. But I think @snailplane just wrote an answer saying something similar to this, if I read her answer correctly
    – user6951
    Jul 12, 2014 at 22:04
  • These 'quotes' don't need to be direct quotes they can be scare quotes. Thus, the quoted intervened may be an indication that it is being used liberally or loosely or euphemistically.
    – Jim
    Jul 12, 2014 at 22:24

2 Answers 2


Quote and unquote are verbal representations of quotation marks, exactly as you suggest in the beginning of your question. In your first example, they take the place of the quotation marks directly:

Alice said Bob quote intervened unquote.

Alice said Bob intervened.

In your second example, they indicate that the following (or occasionally preceding) word or phrase is to be understood as though it's a quote:

Alice said Bob quote unquote intervened.

Alice said Bob intervened.

When this occurs, the quoted phrase is probably set off intonationally, so you can hear where the boundaries are despite the word order.

Either version can be used with the same meaning, but I think the latter version is especially associated with so-called “scare quotes”. As Wikipedia says:

When referred to as “scare quotes”, the quotation marks are suggested to imply skepticism of or disagreement with the quoted terminology.

To my ear, this is especially likely when quote unquote precede the “quoted” phrase. It's a verbal signal of irony.

  • I never heard the expression 'scare quote' before.... So... I guess you learn something every day.
    – user6951
    Jul 12, 2014 at 23:50

The phrase "quote unquote" denotes irony or sarcasm

A quotation mark before and after a word means that it is a verbatim recitation.

I have a different interpretation that snailplane's.

The sentence, Alice said Bob quote intervened unquote, would not be used in American speech because intervened is a verb. It is something Bob might have done, but not anything he is likley to have verbalized and therefore, in my opinion, not a potential quotation.

However, Alice said Bob quote unquote"intervened", means that Bob somehow became involved in a situation perhaps half-heartedly, perhaps ineffectively, perhaps interjecting himself in a situation that was not his business.

  • I've used quote unquote multiple times when reporting verbatim speech, as have many of my friends and acquaintances.
    – jimsug
    Jul 13, 2014 at 5:28

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .