If regular quotation marks can be used for unfamiliar terms, then single quotation marks must be for kinda-sorta unfamiliar terms, right?
For some reason, this idea seems to be growing in popularity with writers whose work I copy edit. They're writing stuff like:
The episode's 'reveal' came when Joe turned up alive.
Elizabeth 'showcased' her talents.
The poker player had a serious 'tell.'
While I can see why someone would think this, it's officially getting on my nerves (since I have to fix them).
In American style, quotation marks are used mainly for direct quotations, to denote irony, or to denote unfamiliar terms: You can "showcase" your "awesome" car by parking it out front.
Single quotation marks are usually just for quoted matter within quoted matter: "Joe told me to 'pipe down,'" Becky said. The biggest exception is in headlines, where a lot of styles call for single quotation marks instead of regular quotation marks: Body Surfing 'Totally Rad,' Obama Says.
But, according to most mainstream style guides, that's about it. They're not quotation marks "lite."
(Sorry if I sound "cranky," but I'm very "busy" working for an "employer" whose recent Chapter 11 filing is causing them to make a mockery of the word "compensation.")