Why do U.S. newspapers sometimes use 'Single Quotes' in headlines?

Double quotes is the standard in American English, except for quotes within other quotes. But sometimes newspapers (I see this in the Washington Post) use the single quotes in headlines. Like today:

Iran warns that it will deal ‘fiercely’ with protestors

where the quoted word is a direct quote.

Why don’t they use double quotes?

I don’t have an answer to the question posed in the thread title.

But it’s my observation in terms of usage that a direct quote, even of a single word, in ‘normal’ double quotation marks, implies that someone actually used that word, while a single-quote set implies it’s attributed but not quoting anyone specific. For example, my use of ‘normal’ above represents that Americans would generally consider the use of double quotation marks as normal, while British would probably not, in those circumstances – but I’m not quoting any particular person, just attributing the idea that people would call it ‘normal’ to the typical American.

Examples, invented, of WWII vintage:

Roosevelt calls Pearl Harbor attack “day that will live in infamy”

Poll: Americans see Nazis, Japs as ‘barbarians’

The first is a direct quotation, the second is the headline writer’s word attempting to summarize attitudes expressed in a poll, which may have never actually used the word “barbarians”.

The biggest reason is it saves space. This is less of a concern nowadays, since we can write the headline we want, more or less, and shrink it into the space. But back when type was set and headline “counts” (the number of letters per line and the point size of the type) were handled in a more complex, less flexible process, every character counted. Not all newspapers still use single quotes — The Denver Post, for one — but like most archaic traditions at newspapers, this one has stuck around.

I’m with SanibelMan. Once upon a time this might have saved important space and today it’s a tradition, and you should never underestimate the ingenuity headline writers will resort to in the name of saving space.

A few examples from the sites of major newspapers - you’ll see real quotes here:

From Washingtonpost.com:
Iran warns that it will deal ‘fiercely’ with protesters (direct quote)

From NYPost.com:
Riders wait - & ‘see’ (attributed to nobody in particular)

From NYTimes.com:
Loren Singer, ‘Parallax View’ Author, Dies at 86 (creative work)

From CNN.com:
Oops! Reid votes ‘no’ on bill (quote)

It’s also rare for a headline to include a quote of more than, say, two words. So from that standpoint it’s not as important to clarify if the quoted words are a real quote or just a summary of what someone said.

Thanks, traditions die hard especially in an old-line business like print media.

In my OP example, the word “fiercely” appears in a direct quote in the article, so doesn’t fit the theory.

Sorry for using an example you’d already used in the OP, CookingWithGas. That was stupid. As a replacement, the L.A. Times has Alleged ‘Bedtime Bandits’ Arrested (title). It’s worth noting that some other major papers don’t have any headlines with quotes in them, at least for today, including the Wall Street Journal. The Times of India seems to have a different way of doing things. I went to its site and saw two headlines composed entirely of paraphrase quotes: ‘No one should suffer like my daughter did’, which is a close paraphrase of a comment by a grieving father, and ‘Hijras should be loan-recoverers’, which is a summary of a supreme court statement that says authorities should consider appointing eunuchs to collect on loans, since the eunuchs have trouble finding work.

I don’t kow why they do it, but I have a copy of the the “Chicago Manual of Style

And here is an example of some of how to write a banner headline

[li]Make every headline a complete sentence with a subject and verb[/li][li]Omit “is” and “are” from banner headlines whenever possible[/li][li]Use present tense to indicated current and past happenings[/li][li]Use the infinitive whenver possible to indicate future happenings[/li][li]Use the active voice of the verb, not the passive[/li][li]Do not use articles “a,” “an,” or “the”[/li][li]Never dived words[/li][li]Do not begin a banner headline with a verb[/li][li]Do not use abbreviations except for well known individuals (FDR) or groups (AFL-CIO)[/li][li]Never add periods or spaces between letters of used abbreviations[/li][li]Use number on if necessarly, spell them out. [/li][li]Avoid starting banner headline with number[/li][li]Use single quotation marks[/li][/ul]

So at least from this it seems to be a matter of style.

Everyone is right in the sense that throwing a hand grenade kills the intended target as well as others.

Way back in the old Linotype days, and before, each column had a count for letters and punctuation. I’m not going to swear these are accurate, because it’s been years since I’ve done this, but for example: a,e,o,u each counted as 1. An i or a period or an apostrophe counted as 1/2. Some capitals, but not all, counted as 1 1/2. Ms and Ws would count 2.

So, if you had to write a headline for a one-column story, which, for example, had a count of 12 (for a 12 pica width), things were fairly easy. If you were setting type for a headline on a one-column story, you added up the count of the letters and if was 12 or less, it would fit. Assuming the type was 12-point. Of course, if the type was larger, say 24 point, then the width count was half. So you would count up the letters and divide by two. I won’t even go into larger type.

In other words, each column, or combination of columns, had a word count, including punctuation according to the size of the type.

Suffice to say, when writing headlines, you wanted all the space you could get. Since single quotes counted 1/2 rather that 1, the standard became single quotes in headlines, double quotes in body copy.

Although it’s becoming less common, that’s why a comma in a headline actually means “and” except when it doesn’t.

My only cite is I used to do this for a living. I 'm sure I cleared this all up.

Well, crap, each column had a “letter” count, not a “word” count. Sorry.

Well, what’s wrong with it? Did you have any problem understanding it? Is it a somewhat common usage? If so, then it’s perfectly OK.

The USA has no legal board nor any ultimate authority to enforce this sort of thing. As long as the meaning is not in doubt, what’s the problem?

I thought it was because they were ‘quoting’ a single source, or a translated source i.e. not thoroughly verified (yet) - making the annoying single quotes a product of the instant news culture.

Actually, most – if not all – British newspapers seem to have similar styles for quotation marks to American ones (ie double quotes for quotations, except in headlines). It seems to be in book publishing (and perhaps some magazines) that single quote marks have become standard in Britain.

That was a great answer, and this is the best kind of cite :slight_smile:

To whom are you posing these questions? If to me as OP, I’ll respond that there is no “problem.” I was asking about an eccentric use of single quotes not found in other common usages. I don’t see any post here that accuses it of being “wrong.”