YOU’LL HAVE SEEN QUOTATION MARKS around the most unlikely of phrases. Their proper use is to indicate that a saying has been first pronounced by someone else: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be,” as Polonius said. It all dates back to Aristotle, who called this technique one of the five non-technical proofs of rhetoric (the technical proofs being those devised by the speaker). By quoting a venerable source you add their weight to your argument.
Of course, the technique has been grossly misused. “The best pizza in the world” might appear in quotes to suggest that someone important has said it, when that’s not the case.
But putting words in quotes also carries the implication that the message might not be true. We might refer to the “gentlemen” of the press, or the “caring society”, adding quotation marks to indicate that we’re using the terms ironically. So when you see something described as “Free” or “New”, you’re more likely to disbelieve it.
So what are we to make of “Ladies”? Is it an ironic term for the slags who frequent this establishment? Or just a clumsy slip of the chalk?