Quite often I run into someone who knows I’m a professor and assumes I know everything. I don’t. As an example, last week someone asked me, “Do you know anything about italics?”
I said, “Well, I know they are responsible for some great art works and they make an excellent lasagna.”
Other Person said, “Oh no, I meant italics, like in slanty writing.”
I admitted I didn’t know much about italics at all and Other Person looked so disappointed I decided to do some research on the subject. Apparently most Other Persons have no idea it’s possible to do this. In other words, I get the feeling that if I can’t answer their question they never will know.
My research in to the world of italics showed me more things than I really wanted to know about italics but at the same time led me to a discovery about italics that I believe is groundbreaking.
Now, I assume most of us know there must be some common use for italics. Otherwise why would they make it so easy to use italics in even the most basic word processors? Note that I used one of the functions of italics there. That is to emphasize a word or words. Other not so common uses include using italics for a title as in, “Why don’t you check The Encyclopedia Britannica, you moron?” Not that I would ever say it like that. Which demonstrates another use of italics: when writing a single letter as the I in “Not that I.”
It was a surprise to me to find there are dozens, well many, uses for italics that I had never crossed my mind. For example, how many people would guess that citing legal cases should be italicized, as in the case of Ho v. Hum ? But I also made a new discovery about italics that I can’t find any reference to. In other words, I believe I have stumbled upon a major discovery about italics that in the lexicography world ranks right up there with the discovery about dangling participles and the I before E except after C rule. Or is that the other way around?
Allow me to demonstrate what led to my discovery. I will write two statements. One contains italicizing that the other doesn’t. Look carefully and see if you see any discrepancies.
1. John could see no use for italics.
2. John could see no use for italics.
Do you see the difference? Well neither did I at first. Actually in Line 1. the word italics. is different from the word italics. in line 2. The period at the end of line 2 is not italicized!
So, the new rule which should be added to all the references is, “A period or a comma can be italicized or not as the writer pleases.”
Before the rule goes before the International Punctuation Committee next June it might be a good idea to omit reference to the comma. I think the same rule applies but I haven’t researched the comma as thoroughly as I did with the period or, as some people call it, the dot.
The Old Professor
October 26, 2007