What is the name for the quote fingers gesture?
April 18, 2005 2:34 PM   Subscribe

Many years ago someone told me the name for the quotey fingers gesture (the one where you make you index and middle fingers into little crooks and visually bookend whatever you're talking about). I've long forgotten the name, and it's been driving me crazy for years. Help Please!
posted by mrs.pants to Human Relations (27 answers total)
I've only ever heard them called "finger quotes," but I'm sure there's a snarkier name out there.
posted by etc. at 2:40 PM on April 18, 2005

"air quotes" is what I've usually heard.
posted by jheiz at 2:41 PM on April 18, 2005

"Air quotes," seconded.
posted by box at 2:42 PM on April 18, 2005

Some of my friends joke about "finger flexion," and Dr. Evil called them "finger quotations". "Air quotes" is generally what I use.
posted by apple scruff at 2:53 PM on April 18, 2005

Oh man. I've called them "finger quotes" but my boyfriend, I assumed called them "scare quotes." However, seeing everyone saying "air quotes" I'm a little terrified that I've been mishearing him.
posted by Gucky at 2:54 PM on April 18, 2005

I've heard "scare quotes" used for quotes used to indicate a negative opinion (frex, criminal "justice" system). They can be in text or in the air.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 3:00 PM on April 18, 2005

It was less descriptive than "air quotes", maybe just one word? Damnit.
posted by mrs.pants at 3:05 PM on April 18, 2005

Typographically speaking, the curved quotes are called smart quotes and are more desirable then their ugly little brother - the dumb quote. Dumb quotes are simply straight vertical ticks. You probably see dumb quotes being used on this page. That is, the punctuation is dumb - not the actual quote itself.

Anyway, now that I'm done being pedantic I vote for "air quotes".
posted by quadog at 3:08 PM on April 18, 2005

I've heard them called "scare quotes", and I think it's an accurate use of the term. Written scare quotes are used to indicate that the phrase inside the quotation marks is something that someone else might say, but the author certainly wouldn't. Sort of like putting "so-called" in front of it. The finger gesture has the same sense.

I'd never heard "air quotes" before, but I like it.
posted by aneel at 3:16 PM on April 18, 2005

As he's ready to leave Central Perk, after getting Rachel's muffin, Joey walks in. Ross refuses to speak to him, but Joey's insistent that they really need to settle the whole "you asked Rachel to marry you" thing. Ross launches into a little tirade about "set aside the fact that you 'accidentally' asked Rachel to marry you, and I even understand that you couldn't talk to her, but why couldn't you talk to me?" Joey stops him and says that he doesn't really understand when people do "this" (air quotes). Ross stares at him like he can't believe that Joey's that stupid (has he never seen this show before?), and Joey tries it out himself saying: "I'm sorry." (with air quotes) Ross just looks at him and shakes his head: "Not using it right, Joe." So Joey brings his fingers in close to his face and mouths "I'm sorry" again.
posted by Specklet at 3:31 PM on April 18, 2005

They're "scare quotes" if you're referring to their printed form.

They're "the rabbit ears of forced irony" if you're referring to their gestural form.
posted by scody at 3:34 PM on April 18, 2005 [3 favorites]

airquotes, but scody wins.
If we're making stuff up, can I call it "Air-ony"
posted by seanyboy at 3:40 PM on April 18, 2005

I have always called them inverted commas, but then, I'm not American.
posted by gaspode at 3:41 PM on April 18, 2005

Wikipedia also refers to finger flexion.
posted by seanyboy at 3:43 PM on April 18, 2005

Another vote for air quotes. As always, Suck.com breaks down what scare quotes are.
posted by haqspan at 3:46 PM on April 18, 2005

I am not a crook
Rabbit ears, thought that was in photographs. When a person is in a picture with other people the gesture is done with one hand behind another person’s head and the fingers only are visible in the shot. Making the person to have “rabbit ears.”
posted by thomcatspike at 3:50 PM on April 18, 2005

I swear it was not air quotes. I only hope that this person who told me the tale years ago wasn't just screwing with me...
posted by mrs.pants at 4:28 PM on April 18, 2005

Typographically speaking, the curved quotes are called smart quotes and are more desirable then their ugly little brother - the dumb quote.

Uh, that might be what Microsoft Word calls them. The curved quotes are simply left and right quotation marks, or open and close quotation marks. Or typographer's quotation marks.
posted by grouse at 5:10 PM on April 18, 2005

I propose we call them Brauer quotes in tribute the commentator Bennett Brauer.
posted by keswick at 5:11 PM on April 18, 2005

Mrs pants, I agree that there is a coinage out there that is a single, multisyllabic word. This won't help much, but I have a lot of memories from when this meme first became ubiquitous.

1. I think the first place I ever witnessed the air quote was on the Late Show with David Letterman, circa 1985 or 6. I had never seen it before but it was intuitive and hilarious. The audience had never seen it before, either, and fell out. Dave repeated it throughout the show in his manner. I would guess that the gesture's spread (if not origin) can be traced to that single show. However, it wasn't called by any name on the show.

2. The gesture was described in a wonderful article in the Atlantic Monthly which was all about 'Camp: the New Irony' or some such title. It was a pretty great article, and was one of the earliest pieces of writing I can remember that noticed and analyzed the cultural shift from late 70s/early 80s earnestness and self-improvement to the cynical distance we all feel is normal today. (See, I can't even write a sentence without it.) Anyway -- the article mentioned the phenomenon of enclosing a not-meant-sincerely phrase in the quotation gesture. The article also argued that pervasive sarcasm and cynicism spread outward from the gay community and was a recognition of the distance between agreed-upon mores and reality. So it was this amazing article (in my memory anyway, and as a caveat, I was like 16) but it is old enough that I can't find it online. Someone with good library access, say to a university, could maybe find it indexed for you. It was definitely the Atlantic. Or Harper's. But more likely the Atlantic.
posted by Miko at 5:20 PM on April 18, 2005

curly fingers!
posted by krunk at 7:35 PM on April 18, 2005

mrs.pants, was the phrase you heard "bunny ears"?

I do like quotey fingers, though, and possibly just "quoteys" or "quoties".
posted by dhartung at 12:20 AM on April 19, 2005

I am pretty sure I had a professor that referred to them as "sanitary pips" but for the life of me, I don't know why that made sense.
posted by mzurer at 1:11 AM on April 19, 2005

I myself have always called them "annoying quotey fingers," but that's just me. Everyone else I know calls them air quotes.
posted by angeline at 6:39 AM on April 19, 2005

I have decided that this mystery will haunt my life, but thank you everyone, esp. Miko for making me feel a little less adrift!
posted by mrs.pants at 6:52 AM on April 19, 2005

Was it «guillemet»?
posted by nobody at 9:02 AM on April 19, 2005

Miko: I specifically remember a friend using air quotes in 1972, so I'm sure that they weren't invented by Letterman. I'm pretty sure that my friend hadn't invented them, either. That may have been the first time I saw them; I don't remember.
posted by Daddio at 1:30 PM on April 19, 2005

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