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Old 08-09-2000, 10:44 AM
SuaSponte SuaSponte is offline
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Where did the tradition of putting certain Latin or foreign (hell, they may all be Latin - I don't know the Romance languages very well) in italics come from? Examples include sotto voce or par excellance. I did a quick look at the OED and didn't find any explanation (admittedly, I didn't look that hard).

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Old 08-09-2000, 11:04 AM
KneadToKnow KneadToKnow is offline
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Like the "no split infinitives" rule, this started up with Victorian-era prescriptive grammarians as a way of indicating to the reader that the phrase was from a foreign language. I think the assumption back then was that if you were new to reading (as so many people were), you might not know a common foreign expression from your elbow, so the printer should do something to help you out, you poor slob.

It is still commonly (though less commonly) used with completely foreign expressions like your example sotto voce, which average speakers and readers of English would have no expectation of knowing. Foreign expressions like "per se" or "adios" have been absorbed into English sufficiently that any time you see them italicized, you can count on it being an affectation.

Did you see that ludicrous display last night?
Old 08-09-2000, 12:05 PM
Kimstu Kimstu is offline
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Not bad, KTK, but it goes back way before the Victorian era. My facsimile edition of Descartes' 1637 French work La Géometrie uses italics for Latin. And I'm sure I've seen the same usage in even earlier vernacular works. I would bet it predates the invention of printing but I sure hope nobody asks me to back that up.

And it's not intended so much for novice readers (who didn't form a big part of Descartes' audience, for example) as simply a courtesy to all readers who are cheerfully skimming along in one language and aren't expecting the next word they see to be in a different one. A nice invention on the part of the literate world, right up there with page numbers if you ask me.
Old 08-09-2000, 12:54 PM
KneadToKnow KneadToKnow is offline
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Man, am I glad I added that "WAG" right before I submitted my post!
Did you see that ludicrous display last night?
Old 08-09-2000, 07:16 PM
tomndebb tomndebb is offline
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And while I would guess that "adios" and "sympatico" are as anglicized as "canyon" or "arroyo" (even if we cheated on the spelling for "canyon"), or "blitzkrieg" or "flak", I would disagree regarding per se, i.e., e.g., and a number of other phrases and abbreviations. Unless one wants to put forth an abomination such as "persay," I would hold that those phrases remain Latin (as noir remains French) and they should continue to be italicized.

There is not a clean, logical determination for this, but that is how I would interpret current usage.
Old 08-09-2000, 10:24 PM
bibliophage bibliophage is offline
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I offer an example from a menu proposed by a Hong Kong hotel, most of which was in English. One item, however, was actually French, but it was, crucially, not printed in italic type, thereby failing to indicate typographically that the item was in a language other than English. The item was "pain surprise." This certainly did not seem very appetizing
From The Chicago Manual of Style
Familiar words. Familiar words and phrases in a foreign language shold be set in roman type (note the lowercase style for the two German nouns):
  • effendi
    fait accompli
    mea culpa
    a priori
The problem, of course, lies in deciding whether a word or phrase is familiar. One attempt at standardization relies on whether the word or phrase has made its way into a standard English dictionary.... The adoption, however, does not mean that the item has necessarily become familiar to all. Words like barranca, kiblah, and fazenda, for example ... are less familiar than fait accompli, kibitz, and hacienda, yet all are found in standard English dictionaries. Familiarity is relative...

Scholarly abbreviations. it is now the custom at the University of Chcago Press to use roman type also for scholarly Latin words and abbreviations such as:
  • ibid.
    et al.
Because of its peculiar use in quoted matter, it seems wise to retain italics for sic.


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