From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Scare quotes is a general term for quotation marks used for purposes other than to identify a direct quotation. For example, authors might use quotation marks to highlight special terminology, to distance the writer from the material being reported, to indicate that it is someone else's terminology, or to bring attention to a word or phrase as questionable or at least atypical in some way.
Scare quotes are often intended to provoke a negative association for the word or phrase enclosed in the quotes, or at least a suspicion about the appropriateness or full truth that might be presumed if the quotes were omitted. When communicating face-to-face, an approximation of scare quotes is a hand gesture known as air quotes or finger quotes, which mimics the appearance of quotation marks.