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date: 17 September 2019


The Oxford Companion to the English Language
Tom McArthurTom McArthur, Jacqueline Lam-McArthurJacqueline Lam-McArthur, Lise FontaineLise Fontaine

Italic (italic script, italic type, italics). 

A slightly slanted letter form based on a style of handwriting favoured by Italian humanists; introduced into European printing in 1501 by the Venetian printer Aldo Manuzio (Aldus Manutius). Originally a separate typeface, italic has long been combined with roman as a marker for certain kinds of information in a text. In 16c English, it was often used for names and titles (‘Aristotle wrote De Caelo’). Currently, it serves to highlight and emphasize titles, foreignisms, and words and phrases, and helps provide textual contrasts. Major quoted titles (books, plays, operas, films, musical compositions) are generally in italic (The Wind in the Willows, Gone with the Wind), but minor titles (poems in collections, articles in periodicals, or papers in scholarly works) are more commonly roman within quotation marks (‘Ode to a Grecian Urn’, ‘Tense and aspect in Irish English’). The names in legal cases are also italicized: Griffin v. Jones. Italics are often used to mark exotic and unusual words in a text: ‘Japanese columnists remind women readers of gaman, the tradition that they must endure their problems.’ Similarly, words are italicized so as to draw the reader’s attention to them: ‘Ruskin called this attitude to nature the pathetic fallacy.’ Italics highlight words which the writer wishes to emphasize, partially or fully: ‘Hel-lo!’; ‘He won’t; not that he’s afraid; oh, no! he won’t.’ In addition, phrases and sentences used as examples of usage in dictionaries are usually italicized to contrast with definitions in roman, and similar uses occur in textbooks. Sometimes entire texts are set in italic, sometimes sections of texts (such as introductions, summaries, and lead-ins), sometimes italic and roman alternate contrastively: paragraphs in italic with commentary in roman, or vice versa; a letter read in a novel or a character’s thoughts in italics while the mainstream is in roman. See foreignism.