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Use-mention distinction

The use-mention distinction is the distinction between using a word (or phrase, etc.) and mentioning it. In written language, mentioned words or phrases often appear between quotation marks or in italics[?]; some authorities insist that mentioned words or phrases always be made visually distinct in this manner. Used words or phrases, being more common than mentioned ones, do not have any typographic distinction.

For example,

Cheese is derived from milk.

is a statement about the substance cheese, while

Cheese is derived from a word in Old English

is a statement about the word cheese.

Putting a statement in quotation marks and attributing it to its originator is a useful way of turning a disputed statement about a subject into an undisputed statement about another statement.

Making a statement mention itself is an interesting way of producing logical paradoxes. There are many examples of this phenomenon in the works of Douglas Hofstadter.


In journalism, the use-mention distinction is often used when reporting on scandals. Rather than saying "Jeffrey Archer is a crook", an article might say "There have been allegations that Jeffrey Archer is a crook". Or, more concisely, "Jeffrey Archer is allegedly a crook". Journalists claim to be reporting allegations, rather than making allegations.

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