7 Italic, roman, and other type treatments

7.2 Italic type

Italic type is used to indicate emphasis or stress; to style titles, headings, indexes, and cross-references; to indicate foreign words and phrases; and in specific technical contexts (see Chapter 14).

7.2.1 Emphasis and highlighting

Setting type in italics indicates emphasis by setting off a word or phrase from its context:

An essay’s length is less important than its content
I don’t care how you get here, just get here
Such style, such grace, is astounding

Employ italics sparingly for emphasis. It may be better to achieve the same effect by making the emphasis clear through the sentence structure, or by using intensifying adjectives and adverbs:

The actual purpose of her letter remained a mystery
rather than
The purpose of her letter remained a mystery

Italic may also be used to highlight a word, phrase, or character where it is itself the object of discussion:

the letter z

spell labour with a u

the past tense of go is went

Quotation marks may also be used in this way (see 7.3 below): decide which will be clearer and more intelligible to the reader, and apply that style consistently in comparable contexts.

Technical or recently coined terms and words being introduced, defined, or assigned a special meaning are often italicized at first mention:

The unit of cultivation was the strip … a bundle of strips made up what was known as a furlong
a pair of endocrine structures termed the adrenal glands

Bold type is also used for this purpose in some contexts (see 7.4 below).

When an author or editor adds italics to a quotation for emphasis, indicate that this has been done by adding ‘my italics’, ‘author’s italics’, or ‘italics added’ in square brackets after the italicized word or words, or in parentheses at the end of the quotation or in the relevant footnote or endnote. (Using ‘my emphasis’ or ‘emphasis added’ is an acceptable alternative where italics are the only form of emphasis used.)

The committee had decided not to put it in the petition, ‘but intimate it to the prince’ (BL, Harley MS 6383, fo. 122a: my italics)

7.2.2 Foreign words and phrases

Italic type is used in English texts for words and phrases that are still regarded as foreign or need to be distinguished from identical English forms:

the catenaccio defensive system employed by the Italians
an amuse-gueule of a tiny sardine mounted on a crisp crouton
When a foreign word becomes naturalized into English (that is, no longer regarded as distinctively foreign) it is usually printed in roman like other English words:
the phrase is repeated ad nauseam throughout the book
Mortimer describes the scene with characteristic brio

Convention and context rather than logic determine when foreign words are sufficiently assimilated into English to be printed in roman type. In modern English the use of italics for foreign words is less prevalent than it used to be, and newly adopted foreign terms may pass into roman text very quickly. The best advice is to treat any one item consistently within a given text and follow the newest edition of a suitable dictionary, such as the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors or the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Take into account also the subject’s conventions and the intended readers’ expectations: if in doubt over the degree of assimilation of a particular word, the more cautious policy is to italicize, but in a work written for specialists whose terminology it may be a part of, it may be wiser not to.

On the other hand, consistency or context may require words normally romanized in general English to revert to italicization (or, as in German, capitalization), to avoid their looking out of place among related but less assimilated foreign words.

A coup d’état depends upon the predisposition of the people to accept the fait accompli [fait accompli].

It is also sometimes important to go on italicizing a foreign word, however familiar, where there is an English word with the same spelling, as with Land for a province of Germany or pension for a Continental boarding house.

When a word is sufficiently assimilated to be printed in roman, it may still retain its accents, as with ‘pâté’, ‘plié’, and ‘crèche’; or it may lose them, as with ‘cafe’, ‘denouement’, ‘elite’, and ‘facade’ (these forms are the ones shown in current Oxford dictionaries).

Foreign words assimilated into English tend to lose gender inflections, so that the English ‘rentier’—now assimilated into the language in roman type—applies to both male and female, though the French feminine form of rentier is rentière. While in English the default gender is normally masculine, the dominant anglicized form of some words may be the feminine one: an example is ‘blonde’, which in British English is the usual form for both sexes, although ‘blond’ is still sometimes used for a man and is the dominant US form.

The explanation or translation of a foreign word or phrase may be presented in any of a number of ways, using roman type in quotation marks or parentheses, as appropriate:

bracchium means ‘arm’
Old French dangier is derived from Latin dominium ‘power’, ‘authority’, which is the basic sense of Middle English daunger
Napoleon said England was a nation of boutiquiers (shopkeepers)

Complicated contexts will require greater diversity: any sensible system is acceptable so long as it is consistently applied and is clear to the reader.

Foreign proper names are not italicized, even when cited in their original language:

rue St-Honoré

Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma

7.2.3 Titles of works

Work titles are discussed fully in Chapter 8. Use italics for titles of books, periodicals, plays, films, TV and radio series, and music albums:

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

Past & Present

Look Back in Anger

West Side Story

Fawlty Towers

La dolce vita

Italics are used for long poems (those of book length, or divided into books or cantos), but roman in quotation marks is used for shorter poems, songs, articles, and individual episodes in broadcast series. The titles of paintings, sculptures, and other works of art are also italicized, as are titles of operas, oratorios, collections of songs, etc.

7.2.4 Other uses of italic

Italic type is also found in the following contexts:

  • • stage directions in plays

  • • dictionaries, for part-of-speech markers, foreign words in etymologies, usage labels, and example sentences

  • • in some styles, for introducing cross-references as in see or see under, and other directions to the reader, such as opposite and overleaf

  • • enumeration such as (a), (b), (c) in lists, in some styles (see 15.1.5)

  • • names of ships, aircraft, and vehicles (see 5.16)

  • • names of parties in legal cases (see Chapter 13)

  • • biological nomenclature (see Chapter 14)

  • • science and mathematics (see Chapter 14).


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