to italicize or not to italicize...

Jim McKenney
Mon, 15 Sep 2008 10:03:59 PDT
Well, David, welcome to email world. I have long regretted the lack of
italics capability on this forum - it makes discussions such as this one a
lot more complicated. 


But I'm glad you had this experience:  I wanted to start a discussion of the
role of italics in print media. 


I've always assumed that the practice of italicizing scientific names is a
hold over from the old more general practice of italicizing text in a
foreign language. When I was a kid, it was not unusual to see foreign words
italicized. The practice has all but died out in my local newspaper, The
Washington Post. I've complained about this to them, and I've complained
about the practice of using words and phrases from who-knows-what language
without explanation of the meaning or the pronunciation. 


The relevance, if any, of all of this to the present thread has to do with
the treatment of taxa above the rank of genus and species. I've seen a call
for the italicization of all such taxa. For most of us, that would mean that
in addition to italicizing the genus and species, we would italicize the
family name, too (and also italicize the names of orders and so on in the
unlikely event that we would use them). 


What interests me about this is that the print media in general seem to be
taking one direction while garden writing seems to be taking another. In
some samples of my own writing I italicized all taxa: the result was a very
busy page, like one with too many exclamation points. I can understand why
newspapers are shying away from the extensive use of italics (and isn't it
ironic that this is happening when italics are so easily done in word
processors). But I wish they would give some thought to providing
definitions and pronunciation guides to these words. Then again, I wish more
gardening publications would do the same (and not with those phony "as if
they were English words" pronunciations - I don't need their help in
pronouncing my own language).    



Jim McKenney

Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, 39.03871º North, 77.09829º West, USDA zone

My Virtual Maryland Garden



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