From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Styling Culture (9)—Titles, Foreign Terms, and Emphasis

Click here to read the introduction to the Round and Square series "Styling Culture." 
In the next few weeks I will be posting the text for a "volume" that I have been distributing for the last fifteen years. Back in 1997, I handed out a two-page set of instructions that I called "Rob's Style Sheet." I quickly learned that it could be a useful teaching tool, allowing me to describe the practicalities and esoterica surrounding grammar and style in the higher education classroom (and beyond). It also became apparent that it could be a useful tool for writing comments on student papers. Instead of trying to explain in the margins of a paper that s/he was using "number" in problematic ways (we'll get to that), I could write "#19," and have her know exactly what I mean. The most impressive students learned the material very well, and some of them have already gone on to be successful writers—in and beyond academia and the corporate world.
[a] Emphatic RF
I will be posting the manuscript that I have provisionally entitled Styling Culture on Round and Square during August and September. As you will quickly see, it is meant to be a grammar book for the anthropologist of American English. It has its prescriptive elements, to be sure (this is all explained in the introduction to the series), but it is meant far more powerfully to be a genuinely useful guide to the culture wars surrounding grammar and usage. In particular, I have great venom for both the annoying critics who always seem to be correcting people and (this is important) for the "good guys" who tell you that it doesn't matter. They're both wrong, and they will hurt you if you listen to them. I'm here to help you, so read on.

9. Titles, Foreign Terms, and Emphasis

Italicize book titles, foreign terms, and points of emphasis—and I mean it. Do not underline these. When composing her drafts, Virginia Woolf (and everyone else writing before the computer era) used underlining for emphasis because typewriters do not easily create italics, and handwriting leaves too much room for ambiguity. She sent her manuscripts to printers, and they changed underlined items to italics when the text went to press. You are not Virginia Woolf (and probably aren’t afraid of her either). You are also not working on a typewriter. Use italics, and go clean that room of your own while you're at it.
     a. Italicize foreign terms (bon mots, joie de vivre, kawaii, Schadenfreude).
     b. Italicize book titles (Les Misérables, The Iliad, Zizhi tongjian).
     c. Do not italicize the titles of chapters, essays, or articles (e.g. “Groundnut 
         Farming on the Gambia River,” “Differential Equations and You”).
     d. Italicize key points of emphasis (She invoked the quintessential Boasian 
     e. Do not over-italicize points of emphasis, or your text will be cluttered. (She 
         invoked the quintessential Boasian argument).
     f.  Capital letters are not a substitute for proper italicization. DO NOT use caps to 
         "scream" your point at your reader (this is just a little misuse of the rule to see if you 
         are paying attention).
***  ***
This is not earth-shaking (think of our last entry) stuff, but it is still worth knowing and following. Like dashes and hyphens, the art lies in figuring out how to use them (in this case italics) effectively. Every writer has had the experience of discovering how useful it can be to emphasize this or to highlight that. Every good writer has fairly quickly come to the realization that too many italics can become tiresome for both readers and writers. Finding the path between the mountains of overuse and too-little-use is the key. It will take experimentation and a little bit of overdoing...and underdoing. 
The examples above will give you a useful road map for the journey.

Page Numbers
Don't ever turn in a paper without them. Few things annoy editors, agents, publishers, and professors as much as papers without page numbers. It is important enough that we will devote an entire entry to them.

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