On NPR this morning I heard a newscaster say a phrase something like this: (paraphrased)

… Bank declined to interview, but in a phone call said, "We are making (quote) every effort (unquote) to …"

I assume that the bank spokesperson didn't actually say "quote" and "unquote", and that that was added by the journalist. It seems to me that the journalist (consciously or unconsciously) wanted to communicate his own doubt about the meaning of "every effort".

I'm curious what this journalistic/rhetorical device might be called. Is there a word for it?

  • If that's exactly what was said, then I agree with @Jay that it sounds like there may be some mis-quoting going on. But did the announcer perhaps say "...said they were making (quote) every effort (unquote) ..."? That is, did the bank spokesman say all those words, or just the two quoted? Nov 16, 2011 at 18:52
  • @Monica: Interesting point. As stated, the "we are making ..." is enclosed in quote marks, which indicates that it is part of the quote. If that's what they meant, they should have written, "... in a phone call said that they were making 'every effort' to ..." But I wouldn't rule out the possibility that that was the intent.
    – Jay
    Nov 18, 2011 at 19:23
  • @Jay, I was wondering if it could be either sloppiness by the radio announcer or a slight mis-hearing by the OP. Nov 18, 2011 at 19:49
  • When a radio announcer reads a quote it's hard to tell if it's a direct quote or a paraphrase. The way this particular newscaster read it, I was pretty sure it was a quote-within-a-quote.
    – kojiro
    Nov 18, 2011 at 19:54

2 Answers 2


If the bank spokesperson altered his tone when he said "every effort", then it is common in English to use quotes to indicate that the speaker was conveying that the words were meant ironically.

If, as I think more likely in this case, the bank spokesman did NOT alter his tone of voice, then I believe the correct term for this is "misquoting" and "bias". The fact that you don't like or agree with what a speaker said does not mean that you can legitimately alter the quote! It doesn't matter how guilty you think the bank is, you can't quote the bank president as confessing to a crime when he is, in fact, claiming complete innocence.

  • This is not how explicit quotes are used, nor is their use a misrepresentation of what was originally said.
    – naughtilus
    Jul 15, 2014 at 9:18

This is not actually a quote-within-a-quote. The only quoted words here are "every effort".

… Bank declined to interview, but in a phone call said, "We are making...

is actually all part of the newscaster's statement. The words quote and unquote are used here to denote that the two words contained therein are a direct quote, i.e. the specific words used by the bank spokesperson, in that order. The rest of the statement "We are making..." is essentially paraphrased to give the gist of what has been conveyed. This is extremely common in televisual, audio and written journalism to distinguish between the two ways of conveying information given by a second party (directly quoting versus interpreting or paraphrasing what may be technical or wordy information).

Any change in the newscaster's tone will indicate their personal (or the station's) opinion on the quoted words, and can not have any effect on the original speaker's message, only on how it may be received by the listener watching the show. In other words, it is not misquoting, simply introducing editorial opinion. How one feels about this behaviour influences which news sources they choose to consume, although it is becoming more and more difficult to find unbiased sources these days.

  • 1
    If someone says, "In a phone call he said, 'We are making ...'", I understand that to mean that "We are making ..." is an exact quote, not a paraphrase. If you want to convey that it's a paraphrase, you can say something like, "In a phone call he said that they are making ..." It can be more difficult to distinguish an exact quote from a paraphrase in speech than in print, as the audience can't see the quote marks, but there are some pretty common conventions to make the difference. Like if you're paraphrasing, you don't say "we", you say "they". And you say "he said that ..." rather than ...
    – Jay
    Jul 15, 2014 at 15:28
  • ... "he said ...", etc.
    – Jay
    Jul 15, 2014 at 15:28
  • That's a good distinction, I didn't pick up on that. You're quite right. The quoted passage doesn't make it especially clear where the actual quote is delimited. I think in that particular case the words quote... unquote are used to draw attention to the most salient words in the response, all of which was an actual quote, in the same way that a single line from an interview piece in a magazine might be blown up in 40-point font and placed alongside the piece. Something like "if you only read one thing on this page to get an idea of the point, this is it."
    – naughtilus
    Jul 16, 2014 at 10:45

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