Another annoying journalistic tic: the single-word quotation.
I suppose that what, if anything, is in the reporter's mind is an impulse to indicate that the subject's exact words are being quoted. But this can lead to unintended consequences, especially when the single word within quotation marks is unremarkable.
Try this: McIntyre said that he was "honored" to be invited to speak to a group of Towson University students about editing.
The sentiment and the word are both commonplace, and eliminating the quotation marks would allow the reader to pass over this flat and unremarkable sentence quickly.
But the quotation marks catch the reader's eye, leading to a question: I wonder what he meant by that.
As Stan Carey points out in "The 'emphatic' use of quotation marks" at Macmillan Dictionary, marking a single word with quotation marks can indicate a technical, foreign, or otherwise exotic term to the reader. But it can also "highlight that a word is being used somehow peculiarly – a writer may wish to indicate irony, inaccuracy, or scepticism." The term of art for this is scare quotes.
Mr. Carey continues: "The Oxford Manual of Style says scare quotes may serve ‘to hold up a word for inspection, as if by tongs, providing a cordon sanitaire between the word and the writer’s finer sensibilities’. It’s a technique that quickly wears thin, so style guides sometimes caution against its excessive use."
Scare quotes are an ordinary word have the effect of the air-quotes gesture that people use in conversation, and that may not be the effect you intend.
I've started to take them out of the texts that cross my desk, to no ill effect. I suggest that it would be simpler for you to forgo them, unless the word you emphasize is actually foreign, technical, or exotic.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun