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I always hear my French teachers say “entre guillemets” followed by some phrases. I asked my friends what does it mean? They told me that they use it when talking about something not true. However, I did not really understand all the times I heard it.

For example, “Entre guillemets, cette méthode est la meilleure”. So, it implies that this method is bad, doesn't it?

Could anyone please explains it along with some examples?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 13 down vote accepted

It is actually entre guillemets, guillemets being the French for quotes.

It is the equivalent of the English quote unquote, or so-called

Mon statut, entre guillemets, a sans doute un peu aidé.
My, quote, unquote, position certainly helped somewhat.

It is mostly used to distance oneself from a statement, to express that the “quoted” statement or word is not perfectly accurate or to denote irony, hyperbole, euphemism or other forms of antiphrasis.

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Distance, yes, that's very well put. –  Julien Guertault Jul 24 '13 at 12:56

The word is guillemet, i.e. quotes. “Entre guillements” literally means “within quote marks”. In speech, this is similar to saying “quote unquote” in English: it means you're citing someone, or pretending to do so, and distancing yourself from the quotation.

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When quoting, you say “Je cite” and end with “fin de citation”, ou possibly “ouvrez les guillemets” and “fermez les guillemets”, not “entre guillemets”. “Entre guillemets” marks indeed distance (or irony). –  Édouard Jul 23 '13 at 11:16
    
@Édouard Isn't that what I wrote? And “je cite” often marks distance too. –  Gilles Jul 23 '13 at 12:43
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You say that “entre guillemets” implies you quote someone. For me, it does not. Let us say you try to cook a desert but fail every time, you could refer to that time it wasn’t as awful as usual as “la fois où je l’ai, entre guillemets, « le mieux réussi »”. This does not mean anyone ever said it was “réussi„ at all. If you say “je cite”, you quote someone. You don’t especially distance yourself from the quote, you don’t endorse it either: you just report that someone said it. –  Édouard Jul 23 '13 at 13:32
    
@Édouard Ah, ok, I see what you mean. Yes, “entre guillemets” can be a pretend quote, whereas “je cite” would have to be a real quote. I wouldn't use “entre guillemets” in your example though — I would only use that if I could imagine someone saying it. “Pour ainsi dire” comes to mind. –  Gilles Jul 23 '13 at 13:45

In your example, that doesn't mean that the method is bad, it means that it's not really the best. Maybe a better method exists, but the speaker will discuss it latter, when appropriate.

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