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but without italics we don't know when spaghetti was still exotic
August 14, 2014 11:56 AM   Subscribe

Daniel Older explains why you shouldn't italicise Spanish words in English.
posted by MartinWisse (69 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
So we should use double quotes around it the way the French do?

Good grief, now orthography is othering?
posted by dhartung at 12:11 PM on August 14 [4 favorites]


Sometimes, it makes sense to italicize non-English words. Other times, it does not make sense to do so. Other times still, it could go either way. Typically, we should defer to the author.

My "favorite" example of this was in the (shitty) book Force 10 From Navarone, in which the author italicized the word "polenta".

I wonder if the word "bagel" ever got italicized anywhere.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:13 PM on August 14 [2 favorites]


I genuinely expected some tiresome beanplating about racism, but this is actually a pretty good point. It breaks the flow in a really obvious way.
posted by emptythought at 12:14 PM on August 14


That's very funny and he's right about certain kinds of usage (as, for example, dialogue or a narrative voice that is clearly meant to be coming from a particular place). But he's wrong in the implication that this makes equal sense in all contexts (as in the reference to the New Yorker). Italicization of foreign words is helpful to readers to let them understand that this is a word likely not to be familiar to them. I'm sure for Spanish-English bilingual speakers it looks weird to see words with which they are intimately familiar appear in italics (and as soon as the word has sufficiently wide currency among English speakers in general the italics should be dropped), but that's just a quirk of which language they happen to speak. I doubt they feel there's any weird about italicizing Finnish words or Japanese words or what have you. There's no pejorative implication and no patronizing implication in the practice (words in Latin and Classical Greek get italicized and those are languages with very high status)--it's simply a way of making things easier for the reader.
posted by yoink at 12:15 PM on August 14 [19 favorites]


I'm not sure what the benefit of italicizing foreign words is, anyway, if you don't want to draw attention to it. For people that code-switch easily, it must be really distracting to read. I always kind of found it pretentious to see randomly italicized french phrases in english magazine articles or whatever.
posted by empath at 12:17 PM on August 14 [1 favorite]


Italics is for Italian, obs.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:17 PM on August 14 [9 favorites]


Italicization of foreign words is helpful to readers to let them understand that this is a word likely not to be familiar to them.

I don't understand this. If I don't know what a word means, I don't know what it means. Doesn't really matter if it's english or spanish. If you google it, it's going to turn up a definition/translation either way.
posted by empath at 12:20 PM on August 14 [6 favorites]


I always kind of found it pretentious to see randomly italicized french phrases in english magazine articles or whatever

Wouldn't the "pretentious" thing be to say "oh, of course everybody learned French, just like me"? Italicizing foreign words is a way of telling the reader "hey, if you don't know what this means, don't worry--it's not a failure of your education or a sign that you haven't mastered the language, it's that this word or phrase is being introduced from a language with which I cannot presume you to be familiar." That seems the very opposite of "pretentious."
posted by yoink at 12:21 PM on August 14 [22 favorites]


Italics is for Italian, obs.

Or for conversation coming from someone in the story who habitually leans against things to emphasise his point or add 'cool'.
posted by Brockles at 12:21 PM on August 14 [2 favorites]


This is purely an issue of stylistic convention, no? I mean, if you are not writing fantasy novels or whatever but are writing for Readers Digest, you are going to use italics. Or use either Chicago Manual of Style or CP Style conventions.
posted by Nevin at 12:22 PM on August 14


Which reminds me of the way Giada De Laurentiis pronounces Italian food names. I will now think of her italicizing.
posted by Celsius1414 at 12:23 PM on August 14 [3 favorites]


If I don't know what a word means, I don't know what it means

And if you don't know it's a foreign word you don't know that you're wasting your time going to your English-language dictionary to look it up.
posted by yoink at 12:23 PM on August 14 [9 favorites]


My biggest complaint with italicizing foreign words is that this gets messy when foreign words show up in titles, and you have to unitalicize them because you can't double-italicize them.

e.g., "Hey, check out my best-selling advice book for newlyweds, How To Use Ad Hominem Attacks More Often"

OTOH I am totally in favor of ridiculous and snooty typographical affectations, such as gratuitous diëreses, oxford commas, &c.


Edit: Unitalicized my closing quotation mark. How embarrassing!
posted by aubilenon at 12:23 PM on August 14 [8 favorites]


I pretty much always hate this. I recently read something (it was a bit scholarly) written in the late 20th century, and the author italicized such exotic words as "role," "idea," and "mode." Ooh la la!

I enjoyed the book despite my teeth-gnashing.
posted by General Tonic at 12:23 PM on August 14 [1 favorite]


advocatus diaboli
posted by stbalbach at 12:25 PM on August 14 [3 favorites]


And if you don't know it's a foreign word you don't know that you're wasting your time going to your English-language dictionary to look it up.

When was the last time you used an honest to goodness English (only) dictionary to look up a word? And not just say, Google.
posted by kmz at 12:31 PM on August 14 [1 favorite]



And if you don't know it's a foreign word you don't know that you're wasting your time going to your English-language dictionary to look it up


If you are using an actual english language dictionary to look something up, no time can possibly be wasted because you have a time machine at your disposal.
posted by elizardbits at 12:32 PM on August 14 [16 favorites]


If you need the assistance of a typographical convention to know that you don't know a specific word, you might want to talk to a neurologist. I mean, jesus, this sounds like something Karl Pilkington would make up.

Your brain knows more words than you do!
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:34 PM on August 14


If you need the assistance of a typographical convention to know that you don't know a specific word

Perhaps you might like to read what I actually wrote rather than inventing something silly just so you can feel smugly superior?
posted by yoink at 12:36 PM on August 14 [17 favorites]


I wonder if the word "bagel" ever got italicized anywhere.

Now I want to see the subtitles to Community.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:38 PM on August 14 [1 favorite]


I don't understand this. If I don't know what a word means, I don't know what it means

Am I the only one that encounters a word I don't know in a story and just infers meaning from context? The italics do point out to me it's something I'm not really expected to understand.

Though this approach led to me not realizing that "swarthy" had something to do with skin tone until 2 years ago, so it has its ups and downs.
posted by Hoopo at 12:39 PM on August 14 [4 favorites]


It sounds like he's talking about italicization when rendering English with very heavy Spanish borrowing. I would agree that italics are inappropriate there, especially since he himself sees them as being inappropriate.

However, in other contexts, italics still make perfect sense. If a character in a novel says, "let us meet at the gostilna", then we are being clear that this character has, in-universe, used a foreign word. Sometimes, it helps the flow to highlight this. Other times, it might not be necessary. The idea that this typographic convention must be abandoned entirely is as laughable as saying that it must always be used.

This can become even more important when words are nearly identical between English and the other language in question. Words often change pronunciation and connotation when they are borrowed into English. The Giada clip linked upthread is an excellent example of this. The English word "Spaghetti" and the Italian word spaghetti are, indeed, pronounced differently! If you were writing a novel in which Giada was a character, it would make perfect sense to highlight the fact that she pronounces those words in an Italian way.

...

If you need the assistance of a typographical convention to know that you don't know a specific word, you might want to talk to a neurologist.

Good grief. By this logic, it's ridiculous that we distinguish between capital and lowercase letters. After all, other languages do just fine without such a distinction.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:40 PM on August 14 [9 favorites]


These type of posts need an "everythingyoudoiswrong" tag.
posted by tommasz at 12:43 PM on August 14 [5 favorites]


These type of posts need an "everythingyoudoiswrong" tag.

everythingyoudoissbagliato
posted by Celsius1414 at 12:48 PM on August 14 [2 favorites]


This baka-na and somewhat erasou-na concept (that we don't need to italicize words from another language) omoidaseru's me about how nihongo conveniently uses katakana to identify wasei-eigo. Tabun wareware, as you might say, don't all speak Spanish or whatever.

Although it makes more sense (that is dropping italics) when writing a fantasy novel. But not in other settings.
posted by Nevin at 12:49 PM on August 14 [1 favorite]


This can become even more important when words are nearly identical between English and the other language in question

Yes, it's particularly useful with "false friends." It's just a way of signalling to the reader "careful...this doesn't mean what you might think it means."
posted by yoink at 12:50 PM on August 14 [7 favorites]


If a character in a novel says, "let us meet at the gostilna", then we are being clear that this character has, in-universe, used a foreign word.

You can also use it to indicate that your character is the kind of insufferable git who talks about his trip to Firenze, where he walked the Ponte Vecchio and ate pizza Margherit'.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:53 PM on August 14 [1 favorite]


Am I the only one that encounters a word I don't know in a story and just infers meaning from context? The italics do point out to me it's something I'm not really expected to understand.

I am skeptical that there are literate adults in america who wouldn't recognize spanish words when they saw them, especially in context.
posted by empath at 12:54 PM on August 14


Everythingyoudoispazzo
posted by Mister_A at 12:55 PM on August 14


"hey, if you don't know what this means, don't worry--it's not a failure of your education or a sign that you haven't mastered the language, it's that this word or phrase is being introduced from a language with which I cannot presume you to be familiar." That seems the very opposite of "pretentious."

Telling someone that you assume they don't know something is basically the definition of pretentious. And in any case, you usually see it with cliches like 'mise en scene'. Or should I have said clichés.
posted by empath at 12:56 PM on August 14


I had some things to say but yoink said them all so just go read what yoink wrote and stick on the coveted ENDORSED BY LANGUAGEHAT label.
posted by languagehat at 1:00 PM on August 14 [22 favorites]


I pretty much always hate this. I recently read something (it was a bit scholarly) written in the late 20th century, and the author italicized such exotic words as "role," "idea," and "mode." Ooh la la!

Ooh, did it put a circumflex over "rôle"?
posted by baf at 1:04 PM on August 14 [1 favorite]


I am skeptical that there are literate adults in america who wouldn't recognize spanish words when they saw them, especially in context.

Godsdammit! I just figured out most of the French...
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 1:05 PM on August 14


Telling someone that you assume they don't know something is basically the definition of pretentious

And, once again, that's not what I wrote. It's about not assuming they do know, not about assuming they don't. When you italicize, say, "ad hominem" in an academic article, you don't think anyone who reads it doesn't know what the term means. But the general practice of italicizing foreign words is based on refusing to presume that everyone who reads what you write shares the same background cultural knowledge that you do.

"If you know and are familiar with this word, great; if you don't, then the italics are giving you one useful piece of information as to why." What I really can't understand--and nobody has tried to articulate--is what possible objection you could make to the practice, except in the kinds of circumstances covered in the linked video? What conceivable objection to the convention is there when we're talking about normal journalistic and scholarly prose etc.?
posted by yoink at 1:06 PM on August 14 [11 favorites]


But...that's totally how my Cuban family talks. I can think of one or two relatives who would love to have a little dramatic background guitar for emphasis at times.
posted by artychoke at 1:06 PM on August 14 [9 favorites]


coveted ENDORSED BY LANGUAGEHAT label

Okay then, my work here is done.
posted by yoink at 1:09 PM on August 14 [2 favorites]


I am skeptical that there are literate adults in america who wouldn't recognize spanish words when they saw them, especially in context.

Would it surprise you to learn there are people in the world who are not american and despite being literate are nevertheless not very familiar with the Spanish language?
posted by Hoopo at 1:15 PM on August 14 [7 favorites]


I don't have any strong opinion on the use or non-use of italics when using foreign words in a written context, but Older's contention that italics should not be used because it is not representative of how people actually talk is provably false by anyone who has ever watched Jeopardy.
posted by The Gooch at 1:18 PM on August 14 [3 favorites]


I am skeptical that there are literate adults in america who wouldn't recognize spanish words when they saw them, especially in context.

My wife's Dutch relatives live in Italy, and we visited them there while on our honeymoon. They were asking how our trip was going, and whether we spoke Italian--I said that, yes, I spoke enough to get by, which was helpful--and they asked if many Americans study foreign languages, besides Spanish, which they assumed most Americans spoke.

I tried to tell them that "most" Americans would probably prefer that the Spanish language be wiped off the face of the earth and they were somewhat gobsmacked. They're fairly buttoned-up, conservative people, but of course they speak at least three languages quite fluently and couldn't at all grasp why Americans wouldn't do the same.
posted by uncleozzy at 1:21 PM on August 14 [3 favorites]


of course he shouldn't italicise Spanish words spoken by his bilingual narrator/characters - I wouldn't italicise the words poutine, anglophone or premier, either. They are French, but they are also part of my vocabulary as a Canadian.

But if I'm writing as me, an anglophone Canadian with a smattering of French but no experience with Spanish, I should italicise most Spanish words, because they are foreign words that I would only ever use as specifically foreign words. I also italicise Latin when I use it, but that's just about showing off that that I know a tiny bit of Latin (dulce et decorum est, sina qua non, veni, vidi, vici).
posted by jb at 1:26 PM on August 14 [2 favorites]


Kameron Hurley on italicising made up languages.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:32 PM on August 14


They're fairly buttoned-up, conservative people, but of course they speak at least three languages quite fluently and couldn't at all grasp why Americans wouldn't do the same.

Because there is currently no anglophone education system with a decent second language instruction - and most non-elite anglophones don't speak more than one language as a matter of course.

I've always wanted to speak a second language fluently, but I also find it classist to be blamed for not having learned one, given that I grew up in a working class monolingual Anglo family, in an Anglo city, with no money for extra language instruction or trips anywhere but equally Anglo places where my Anglo relatives lived. I would have done French language immersion in university, but I was too busy working to pay for my university.

People who grew up with two languages (or more) don't realise who lucky they are to have had the chance to learn multiple languages from their families.
posted by jb at 1:32 PM on August 14 [4 favorites]


Older's contention that italics should not be used because it is not representative of how people actually talk is provably false by anyone who has ever watched Jeopardy.

Yes. When my kids were in Spanish immersion in school, they would switch back and forth just like Jeopardy contestants. "Sophie, Hannah and MARCO ANTONIO are doing a report on NICARAGUA." We called it "Trebeking."
posted by artychoke at 1:33 PM on August 14 [6 favorites]


Agreeing with jb above, I think that it is a valid point not to italicize Spanish words in fiction depicting characters who do bilingual code-switching like in stories by Junot Diaz.

But in other contexts, it still makes sense. Like, for example, making it easier for the reader to distinguish the Brazilian Portuguese word for congratulations, parabéns!, from the noxious chemical additive.
posted by umbú at 1:40 PM on August 14 [4 favorites]


Daniel Older explains why you shouldn't italicise Spanish words in English.

Daniel Older explains why he chooses not to italicise Spanish words in English
posted by IndigoJones at 1:43 PM on August 14 [19 favorites]


I'm not sure italics imply verbal emphasis, perhaps because the most common use I see of italics is for titles of books/journals. However, I do think if Spanish were sprinkled throughout the dialogue it would be annoying and distracting. So in general, yes we italicize words in other languages (not just foreign words), but that's not some sort or iron rule handed down by god.

I think poutine, anglophone (which I don't think is french..isn't it latin or greek?) or premier are fair examples, since the're english words from french words which is different from french words.

Anyway, if italics is weird emphasis, clearly the CBC should italicize both non-English words should italicize and foreign english words.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:44 PM on August 14


"The idea that this typographic convention must be abandoned entirely is as laughable as saying that it must always be used."

Yeah. It's weird that some people are wedded to an absolutism about this. But then, people tend toward dogmatic absolutism about language usage.

I find his particular argument mostly persuasive, that bilingualism and codeswitching is misrepresented by the implicit signaling of this device via italicization. I don't entirely agree with it because -- and I'm confused about this, given that he's personally an expert on this -- in my experience with people who mix English and Spanish, codeswitching or not, they very often do noticeably alter their pronunciation in the way that he claims they don't.

I guess his claim is that the italicization exaggerates this to a degree that is a misrepresentation. But the problem is that selectively anglicizing spanish words when using mixed language, or vice-versa, is also a feature of codeswitching and so, yeah, bilingual hispanophones and anglophones may very well actually include both "Albuquerque" and "Albuquerque" in the same conversation. It's sort of ironic that he's making this argument in this context because where there's a lot of bilingualism and codeswitching there's more likely to be these variations in pronunciation of the same words within an individual's vocabulary, and which only italicization could signal when written. Or so it seems to me.

But, again, I'm totally okay with the argument that this ends up exaggerating it and exoticizing one of the languages in a misleading way such that even if it might be sometimes useful in such contexts, it's more often misleading. I'm okay with this because it seems correct to me and I think I'd prefer to infer the differences in pronunciation by context, as I do with, you know, almost everything else.

Even so, that's distinct from contexts where it's unambiguously a foreign word that, in conversation, would call attention to itself as a foreign word. I think italicizing is appropriate and helpful there. That also is a clue about when it's not -- when it's so familiar as to arguably be a fully naturalized word or, really, enough so that it's not unfamiliar or exotic and it shouldn't be signaled as such. Nobody in American English should ever italicize taco. Or status quo. I've been guilty of the latter, but that will stop now.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:45 PM on August 14 [2 favorites]


Yeah. It's weird that some people are wedded to an absolutism about this. But then, people tend toward dogmatic absolutism about language usage.

Only Sithscriptivists deal in absolutes.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:47 PM on August 14 [1 favorite]


Older's contention that italics should not be used because it is not representative of how people actually talk is provably false by anyone who has ever watched Jeopardy.

A: Jeopardy! Q: Where do contestants not speak like people in everyday life?
posted by tecg at 1:53 PM on August 14


Yeah, I think for non-bilingual people like myself, the code switching IRL is much closer to what he portrays than he realizes. Italics is a help there.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 1:54 PM on August 14


There's considerable evidence that multilingual people activate a specific region of their brains when switching from one language to another:
"Our results suggest that the left caudate monitors the language in use and increases its activation when there is a switch between languages. This shows that the area is signalling a change in language," Price claims.

Researchers did not detect increased activity in the right hemisphere's caudate. They suggest this is because the brain's language centres - that connect to and from the caudate - are located in the left hemisphere of the brain.
...
The left caudate's role in language processing is further backed up by the case of a trilingual woman with a damaged caudate region, who involuntarily switched between three different languages while speaking, says Price.
It seems to me that italics would be a much faster and more efficient cue for people to recognize the possibility of a need to make the necessary shift than having to come to the conclusion that the word they are reading is of a different language than the one they read just before it.
posted by jamjam at 1:54 PM on August 14 [2 favorites]


Daniel Older explains why he chooses not to italicise Spanish words in English

Very much this. I watched a few seconds of the video and assumed at first he got around to making some kind of universalization of his point based on the title of the post, but then after watching this again over lunch I can't recall him saying anything other than his own reasons for why he doesn't. And more power to him; I gather from the intro that some people have, but I'm not going to complain about your stylistic choice.
posted by Hoopo at 2:13 PM on August 14


Nobody in American English should ever italicize taco.

Right, exactly. I want to meet the non-hispanophone English-speaker who goes into an American Taco Bell and makes a point of ordering a burrito, pronounced the Mexican Spanish way.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:14 PM on August 14


Right, exactly. I want to meet the non-hispanophone English-speaker who goes into an American Taco Bell and makes a point of ordering a burrito, pronounced the Mexican Spanish way.

My father-in-law once non-ironically suggested the family stop at a "Taco Tee-may" for dinner.
posted by mph at 2:29 PM on August 14 [1 favorite]


I haven't carefully read every comment, but some of the complaints up in here feel pretty white, if you know what I'm saying.

>Good grief, now orthography is othering?

>I genuinely expected some tiresome beanplating about racism

>However, I do think if Spanish were sprinkled throughout the dialogue it would be annoying and distracting.

>Older's contention that italics should not be used because it is not representative of how people actually talk is provably false by anyone who has ever watched Jeopardy.

(subjectively, code-switching feels fluid. It's not jarring if you understand the codes. Further, I'm not sure Jeopardy ought to be used as a standard bearer for code-switching.)

>You can also use it to indicate that your character is the kind of insufferable git who talks about his trip to Firenze, where he walked the Ponte Vecchio and ate pizza Margherit'.

Maybe they speak Italian. If someone introduced themselves to you as Guglielmo would you insist on calling them William?

I really enjoyed this Junot Diaz piece.

Or at least, I think many here have always occupied a position in the linguistic mainstream. Maybe I'm biased because I'm almost fluent in written spanish.
posted by pmv at 2:31 PM on August 14 [1 favorite]


Your link is broken! It's MFA vs POC, which has been seen before.

Maybe they speak Italian

I picked the two most pedestrian activities I could. My friend Bill* spent a week there and came back over-enunciating everything, even though he never spoke Italian before, and was speaking to monolingual anglophones.

*no, it was me
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:37 PM on August 14 [2 favorites]


I'll be the prescriptivist descriptivist and say that it depends entirely on genre, voice, audience, pragmatics, the words in question, and what's in the fucking style guide. For example, it makes sense to italicize Latin in The Insect and the Astronomer: A Love Story because The Insect's use of Latin phrases carries a particular form of semi-self-conscious emphasis. I think it's unnecessary in news, magazine, or Web copy unless you're emphasizing the first use of a term of art, but again read the fucking style guide.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:40 PM on August 14 [2 favorites]


PMV: I wrote the sentence you quoted about italicization of spanish sprinkled throughout the text distracting and annoying.

I'm white. I'm also Hispanic.

I sometimes speak Spanish with English sprinkled in, or take English verbs and conjugate them in Spanish ways when speaking Spanish. I don't generally mix Spanish in when I'm speaking English, except when no equivalent English word seems to exist (in which case I use the Spanish word and try to explain what it evokes) or when I'm referring to people with titles. For example, I would refer to my uncle as "Mi Tio Juan" when speaking in English with my Spanish speaking cousins. Speaking to a non-Spanish-speaker, I would just say "my uncle."

I find Alex Trebec jarring, even when the non-English words are words in languages I speak or understand.

I don't see how any of my identities, experiences or habits makes italicization sprinkled throughout dialogue --or Alex Trebec -- less distracting.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 2:41 PM on August 14 [1 favorite]


I think its useful when two words are spelt the same in different languages, and it's not necessarily immediately apparent which is which. "Would you like some mate?" sounds like a friendly invitation if you're talking about the drink, sounds like you're being threatened if you're not. Or "he paid for his father's sake" maybe.

I am obsessed and confused in equal measure by drinks of all nationalities.
posted by dng at 2:52 PM on August 14 [2 favorites]


Language!, it's complicated. I thought you were talking about all spanish intermingled, and not just having algunas palabras italicized. Always eager to paint with a wide brush.

I just think that it matters and can be important and you can feel oppressed by its usage and certain voices and so on. I'm as white as it comes, and so really can't speak to growing up Dominicano in Jersey but I do identify with being a linguistic/cultural minority in ways that may simply be invisible to anglos.

People do feel rather possessive regarding how language is used.
posted by pmv at 3:37 PM on August 14


Oy vey.
posted by maxsparber at 5:19 PM on August 14


Oh, sorry. Oy, vey.
posted by maxsparber at 5:19 PM on August 14 [3 favorites]


As usual, I think the only general rule is that you should do whatever results in the least ambiguity for the reader. Unless your goal is ambiguity, of course, but as my highschool English teacher was fond of saying: if you're going to break a rule you had better damn well do it on purpose.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:55 PM on August 14


Man, I don't know, I think that italicizing a word like "biblioteca" makes sense, on the strength of not assuming your reader has a level of familiarity with Spanish on par with your own (nor even in the same ballpark), particularly since it has a false cognate ("libreria"). Taco, not so much. It seems like Mr. Older has a target audience, and a background, where the level of knowledge of Spanish words is much higher than, say, the national average. Which may make this a stylistic choice more defensible than in if it were found in the pages of, say, USA Today or whatever.
posted by axiom at 8:52 PM on August 14


In my opinion, the purpose of italicizing foreign words and phrases is to indicate that the pronunciation and grammar of the italicized word/phrase do not align with English convention. Where there is intended to be a reflection of English convention, we usually do not italicize.

I do not find the arguments here that italicization clues the reader in to their own unfamiliarity about the word/phrase convincing. If this were actually a way English speakers used italicization, it would feel natural for us to italicize old, forgotten English words, many of which we would expect contemporary readers to have less familiarity with than, for example, Spanish hola, which we usually do italicize.
posted by Cucurbit at 10:18 PM on August 14


less familiarity with than, for example, Spanish hola, which we usually do italicize.

Except of course for the hola back girl, who is never italicized.

In the video he makes a good point, that italics are often used for emphasis. Italicize la biblioteca when you want it's spanishness emphasized; don't italicize it when you want the opposite, a sentence where la biblioteca is blended in with no special emphasis.

And as the title of the FPP notes, it's a great way to see what an author or editor thinks readers will understand. What words are typographically set aside this way (and even more so, what words are or are not given translations) signal a lot about those expectations. The worst is clumsy dialogue: "I'm going to el mercado, the store, for some bread," he said.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:55 PM on August 14


As far as I'm concerned, a taco and un taco are completely different foods, so yes, italicizing "taco" has a purpose.
posted by yeolcoatl at 11:21 PM on August 14


"The function of language is to communicate things clearly. The function of grammar and rules around language are to facilitate that communication."

That's from the video. It's the premise from which Older makes his case.

There's nothing especially controversial about that premise. Every time you set out to write something you have to solve that problem. Every time you approach your subject you have to wrestle with the design problem of revealing to your audience:

- How do I communicate this?
- How do I make my intent as clear (or unclear, as the case may be) as possible?

This leads to other pertinent questions, like:

-Who is my audience?
-How would they read this if I did it like this, instead of this?

In Older's case it makes perfect sense to dispense with italics. It doesn't do anything besides make a word stick out on the page when --if you've ever been around experienced code-switchers-- you know that's not how it works in a real conversation. Even if the pronunciation changes it's still completely fluid and normal and the non-English word is no different than any English word in the same sentence.

In contrast I doubt Older would object to italicizing a dead language. People do kinda actually "don the robes" when they say things like carpe diem or sic transit gloria. That's a great use of italics. Oh bother they're intoning Latin again, bring out the italics. Then again nobody is code-switching in Latin, are they? Unless you're writing a novel about the College of Cardinals. I bet when those guys switch from their native tongue to Latin there's absolutely no italicizing going on...of course they're probably already wearing robes so...hey didn't Pope Benedict XVI resign in latin?

IN conclusion. Don't sweat the small stuff, little editors. It's gonna be different every time.

Oh and if you're reading something with non-English in it and the non-English isn't italicized you're gonna be all mad about that? What the actual fuck. Did you throw Finnegan's Wake in the trash too?

In closing I invoke the words of Nabokov*

Burn pedants in pale fire.

Of course he'd probably disagree with everything I said, ha ha
posted by Doleful Creature at 11:51 PM on August 14


kind of insufferable git who talks about his trip to Firenze, where he walked the Ponte Vecchio

Wow, I just learned that Ponte Vecchio means old bridge. I'd still only get what someone was talking about if they called it Ponte Vecchio, though. Totally agree about the pretension involved in calling it Firenze, though.
posted by ambrosen at 1:05 AM on August 15


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