Quote-unquote is an odd expression that is usually used in spoken English. It is occasionally seen in print, especially when quoting someone. We will examine the definition of quote-unquote, when it came into use and how it is used, along with some examples of that use.
Quote-unquote is a phrase that signals one is about to quote another source. Quote-unquote is used most often when one is quoting a source that one disagrees with or finds unreliable. For instance, if you saw an anomaly in the sky that you believed to be a flying saucer, but I do not believe in flying saucers, I might tell a friend that you saw a “quote-unquote flying saucer.” Note that the term quote-unquote usually goes before the quote from another source, though it may be split before and after the source as in “quote, flying saucer, unquote.” In general, the tone and inflection of the speaker indicates the words that are being quoted. The earliest known use of the expression quote-unquote occurred in 1942.
“He wanted to be quote-unquote normal.” (The New York Post)
“We’re storytellers and we want to entertain, but we want to make things for the better and make a quote-unquote ‘difference’ in the world.” (The McDowell News)
“That’s the quote-unquote Christmas season for the pipe bands and if you don’t get to them early enough — we’ll start inviting them in October” (The Allentown Morning Call)
“It’s difficult to see how requiring a group to, quote-unquote, acknowledge the principles of the community will work in practice,” he said, “in a way that isn’t in some ways an opening for attacking the validity of an event featuring protected speech.” (The Chronicle of Higher Education)