Surrounding individual words with quotation marks in headlines is tricky — and probably ill-advised. A reader sends in these three headlines, wondering whether quotation marks are apt:
‘Popular’ photojournalism student killed in wreck
Newspaper carrier tells his ‘wonderful’ hero story
Rendleman remembered for being ‘unique’
This is a technique that headline writers use to establish that some source within the article, not the reporter or newspaper itself, is making an evaluative statement. It’s not for the paper to determine who is popular and who is not, how wonderful a story is, or whether someone is properly remembered as unique. Presumably all three words within quotation marks are to be found embedded in quotations in the article.
The problem is that putting single words within quotation marks also has the effect of suggesting that they are open to question. That is, after all, what is meant by the two-handed, double-quotes-in-the-air gesture that people make to express skepticism or outright disbelief. So the first of the three headlines could easily be read as intending to say, “Some people say that the student killed in the wreck was popular, but we have our reservations about that.”
That is why at The Sun we discourage the practice. (We also wish that grocery stores would stop using quotation marks around the names of produce for sale, but that is neither here nor there.)
And by the way, no one asked for comments on the headlines apart from whether individual words should be in quotes, but these three are irredeemably banal. What does “popular” add to a story about a student killed in an accident? Would the paper have skipped the story if the student had been a loner? “Wonderful” story? Is there a flatter adjective? Someone was “unique”? Actually, isn’t everyone?