Punctuating Words Used as Words, or Words Used in a Special Way
by Tina Blue
March 2, 2004
Occasionally we need to refer to a word as a word, or use it in a "special" way (as I just used the word "special").
If you are setting off a word by describing it as "so-called," then you do not need to enclose the word in quotation marks, as the word "so-called" serves that function already:
~Jenny couldn't believe that her daughter was being accused of keeping company with a so-called juvenile delinquent.
However, if you are referring to a word as a word or term (as I did with "so-called" just now, as I did with "special" in the parenthetical comment in the first paragraph above), then you will want to set it off either with quotation marks or with italics.
If there are many such references, italics are preferred because they create a much less cluttered look. And if the reader is likely to want to make note of "vocabulary" terms (as in a book or article on a technical subject), italics serve to highlight the important terms more effectively.
But for the occasional reference to a word as a word or to a word being used in some specialized way, quotation marks serve nicely.