“And don't forget, when I say wiretapping, those words were in quotes,” the "President" said. “That really covers, because wiretapping is pretty old fashioned stuff. But that really covers surveillance and many other things. And nobody ever talks about the fact that it was in quotes, but that's a very important thing.”
See, when you put things in "quotes" it means we shouldn't take them seriously. Like those "alleged ties to Russia." See what I did there? I was letting you all know that there is nothing to worry about. Or "worry" about. It becomes difficult at times to understand just exactly what we "mean" when we use quotation marks. This bit of punctuation generally used in pairs in various writing systems to set off direct speech, a quotation, or a phrase is now being used for less direct purposes. Think about air quotes for a moment. The White House press secretary uses them. Those scratchy little gestures that hover around words or phrases that are meant to set them apart, and not in a good way. Those words are no longer "useful" but rather "suspect." What do we really "mean" when we use quotes these days?
I tend to use quotes when I want to give direct credit for a thought or phrase to an individual. This often happens when I am shocked or surprised by a particular sentiment and want to transfer it intact from one setting to another. For instance: "Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!" When those single quotation marks show up, by the way, it sets off a quote within a quote. It could be that the "President" was looking to add a little colloquialism into the message, since that is yet another of the myriad uses for quotation marks. Single or double. Or perhaps it is meant as some sort of double entendre or innuendo inserted so as to make us all wonder about the true nature of the relationship between presidents forty-four and forty-five. You know, "special."
If that last bit served to make you just the tiniest bit squeamish, then I consider this time well spent. If all this talk about "quotation marks" and what the "President" really "meant" makes your head hurt, then imagine what challenges await us as we move forward. That same press secretary who has battled facts and tweets and a room full of reporters filled with a rage for blood was asked when we could trust the "President." His answer? “If he's not joking.” Make of that quote what you will.