Tuesday, June 9, 2015

To Use Italics or To Not Use Italics - That Is the Question

Well, it's not really a question...but I am starting to question why some authors are so in love with italics.  Specifically, italics for trademarked names or company names.

A few years ago, I downloaded a free book from Amazon.  The book wasn't particularly good (in fact, it may one of my Top Five Worst Books Ever) but the thing that struck me the most was the constant, overwhelming use of italics AND the constant, overwhelming overuse of company and trademarked names.  It went something like:

The UPS truck dropped off the box from Macy's.  The Tommy Hilfilger shirts had been on backorder; she'd almost thought about canceling the order and re-ordering something from Brooks Brothers.  She sipped her Pepsi and picked up the keys to her Mercedes.  It was time to head out to Saks Fifth Avenue and find the perfect pair of Louboutins.

And I recently read a really intriguing book.  I'd never read something with this particular premise and it really took me by surprise.  I truly felt invested in the characters and the author used character motivation in a way I'd never read before.  But...and this is a big but...every time there was a purchase, a mention of a brand name - it was in those dang italics!! I could overlook the occasional typo or missing punctuation, but every time I saw those italics, I practically shuddered in response. (If you are interested in the specific book, let me know and I'll email it to you.  I haven't contacted the author to ask why she has it like that, and I wouldn't want to put the title out there without having talked to the author first.  And maybe she's corrected the manuscript since I downloaded my copy.)

So, here are some guidelines from the Chicago Manual of Style (16th Edition) in case you are wavering on what to do:

7.47  Italics for emphasis

Use italics for emphasis only as an occasional adjunct to efficient sentence structure. Overused, italics quickly lose their force. Seldom should as much as a sentence be italicized for emphasis, and never a whole passage. In the first example below, the last three words, though clearly emphatic, do not require italics because of their dramatic position at the end of the sentence.

The damaging evidence was offered not by the arresting officer, not by the injured plaintiff, but by the boy’s own mother.
On the other hand, the emphasis in the following example depends on the italics:

It was Leo! 

7.49  Italics for unfamiliar foreign words and phrases

Italics are used for isolated words and phrases in a foreign language if they are likely to be unfamiliar to readers. If a foreign word becomes familiar through repeated use throughout a work, it need be italicized only on its first occurrence. If it appears only rarely, however, italics may be retained.

The grève du zèle is not a true strike but a nitpicking obeying of work rules.
Honi soit qui mal y pense is the motto of the Order of the Garter.

8.152  Trademarks

Brand names that are trademarksoften so indicated in dictionariesshould be capitalized if they must be used. A better choice is to substitute a generic term when available.

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