I was having a conversation with my friend who has been toying with the idea of living in Tokyo, and I said:

It's all very well going all starry-eyed about life in Tokyo, but you'll land back on your feet once the novelty wears off. Tokyo was the first city in Japan where my girlfriend lived, and she's had her fair share of hectic days there before moving to Kyoto. She says Tokyo is "a place to visit" – and yes, those are air quotes.

When you hear someone say Tokyo is "a place to visit", you could be forgiven for thinking they are speaking positively of Tokyo as a great city/place worth visiting at least once in your life.

In this specific context, however, my girlfriend was actually implying sarcastically and pejoratively that Tokyo is "a place to visit, (not to live in...)" – an unusual turn of phrase which departs from the usual interpretation of the phrase "a place to visit".

In English, the expression "air quotes" comes in handy to jokingly point out that a quoted word/phrase was originally said with irony or sarcasm and its meaning is not to be taken at face value. The air-quoted phrase is accompanied by a two-finger gesture mimicking the shape of imaginary quotation marks.

I'm not sure the concept of "air quotes" itself even exists in French to begin with, but how do French speakers express this idea?

  • One thing worth noting might be the inconsistent and often glossed translations of "air guitar" (afaik the earliest such term) on Linguee, suggesting a lack of widespread adoption.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 19:06
  • @LukeSawczak A Russian speaker has just finessed the conundrum of coming up with an equivalent of "air quotes" with a witty paraphrase. Ah, "air guitar". For me, it's always been "jouer de la guitare invisible". Or, given that it's not strictly an instrument, it might arguably be more appropriate to say "faire de la guitare invisible". Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 20:40

3 Answers 3


Air quoting doesn't have an equivalent in French, or at least didn't have one until the double quotes tended to replace the standard French guillemets in casual writing (due to the French keyboard layout limitations) and make the fingers mimic more easily achievable.

However, even without mimicking the quotes, we can still say entre guillemets to express the idea that there is something special about what was just said.

It has already been discussed here.


"how do French speakers express this idea?"

One French speaker expressed it thus:

l'isoler dans une intonation speciale, machinale et ironique comme si'il l'avait mise entre guillemets

Wordy, but, after all, it's Proust.

A little further down the page, he's more succinct:

mettre entre guillemets

It's from Du Cote de Chez Swann page 98 in the old, 3-volume Pleiade edition of the Recherche

In context:

[Swann:] je ne crois pas beaucoup a la "hierarchie"

[Marcel:] quand il parlait de choses serieuses, quand il employait une expression qui semblait impliquer une opinion sur un sujet important, il avait soin de l'isoler dans une intonation speciale, machinale et ironique, come s'il l'avait mise entre guillemets, semblant ne pas vouloir la prendre a son compte et dire "la hierarchie vous savez, come disent les gens ridicules"


"Air quotes" doesn't have equivalent to french, because it's in my mind a written transcription of "whats up today ?". Explanation in the meaning of what is the new tendency ... visiting Tokyo is one of the most "quoted" place to go ... and on "Air" is concerning what's today (august 2018) best place on earth to go in looking after what people may say about (talks spread thru atmosphere and definitely wrote on Air, if there are tagged or quoted high) ? Pejoratively, if you can quote in the air of Tokyo something, the best way is to visit only ... (lol). The two fingers up drawing "entre guillemets" like double quotes just mean in that case : For visiting ... yes go, but it's not the best place to live

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