Sunday, December 11, 2005

On italics abuse

So I’m almost finished getting my book manuscript ready to ship off to the press.  Yup, that’s right, I’ve rewritten the introduction (not from scratch, mind you) and even had Victorianist colleague read it for matters of form and clarity and intellectual excitement (gotta grab that reader!).  And I’ve just been finishing up the formatting clean-up; in the process of doing that, I decided to do a search for all uses of italics because I know I have a wee bit of a tendency to abuse them.

Man, do I ever.  It took me an hour to go through every chapter and get rid of them.  For crying out loud, you’d think that a professor of literature would know how to emphasize a point with syntax or maybe style without having to resort to italics.  But no, not I.  It seems italics are to my writing what my hands are to my talking – I can’t communicate without them.  (Once upon a time, some four and fifth graders in a summer enrichment course I was teaching challenged me to teach without my hands.  They asked me to lean against the wall with my hands behind my back.  It didn’t work.  I resorted to using my shoulders for emphasis.)

I am, of course, exaggerating the italics here.  But you should’ve seen them – man there were a lot of them.  Well, at least I can search and replace italics – not so much the hands problem.

18 comments:

New Kid on the Hallway said...

My problem is "however." It's like my all-purpose conjunction - it used to give my advisor fits. (I suppose it's only justice now that I have to keep writing on my students' papers, "can't use 'however' to link two independent clauses!)

Dr. Virago said...

On that score, my problem phrases are moreover/furthermore/what is more. I might as well just say "Oh, and another thing." Sheesh!

Ancrene Wiseass said...

My own personal writing tic is the em dash. Sometimes, pages of my unrevised prose look like they've had something sprinkled all over them . . . .

La Lecturess said...

Ooh! Ooh! Me too. I was really embarrassed to note how many italics I'd used in a recent article--when I got the marked proofs in which the editor had taken most of them out.

And as for the hands. . . yeah. I'm half Italian. I was told in my mock interview last year to keep at least one hand in my lap, always, because otherwise, in a small room, it was too "distracting" and I seemed "agitated."

sharon said...

With you on the italics. (Although I don't think I really overdo them that much, unfortunately my editor and I don't agree on that point. And he's in charge, so...) But my really 'bad' 'thing' is 'scare quotes'. It's a kind of laziness: it's me saying, "this is a 'concept' which I have some 'problems' with, but I can't be bothered to 'explain' it all now".

Don't think I'm too bad on handwaving. But then I am English. ;)

Dr. Virago said...

I don't know where I got the hand thing since I don't think anyone else in my family does it, not to the extent I do. But maybe I just haven't noticed. Guess I have a project for Christmas!

But Lecturess, LOL -- it was when an editor took out my italics in an article that I noticed my habit. She mentioned that it was too much "like a conference paper," so I imagine that's where I got in the habit, writing cues for my conference performance.

And Sharon, I had a few scare quote issues, too, but my press's style guide said they were acceptable for technical terms, so I decided 'concepts' that I needed to 'explain' were also 'technical terms.' :)

Dr. Virago said...

OH, AW, I *love* em-dashes, because they represent, to me, how I think, and yet can also be used in perfectly grammatical --and therefore, artificial--ways. But in my case I'm anal about making sure they come as a pair and I tried to avoid them in conference papers where it's hard to follow an interrupted thought.

Virgo Sis said...

Hey Sweetie,
I went to school in Italy, remember. I use my hands, italics, quotes and em dashes. It must be genetic.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

LDH would heart all of you who use em dashes - he keeps putting them in my writing and I keep taking them out. (Unless, of course, I'm blogging, where I use them a lot - except rarely in pairs!)

Dr. V, I'm laughing at "Oh, and another thing" - that's pretty much what I do too! Except in my case it's sort of, "Oh, and another thing, which doesn't really fit with what I just said, but I'm going to tell you about it anyway...."

I use my hands when I teach - I had to laugh b/c my chair actually imitated me when we were discussing my teaching observation (I have a "keep going, keep going" kind of gesture that I was completely unconscious of). When I'm talking, I pretty much just get louder and louder.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Um ... I think my academic writing is nothing like my blogging, except that I do use em dashes a little. Now I'll have to watch and see what I do on the carnival posts.

Dr. Virago said...

Hey sis -- do you do it more when you're presenting at a meeting or something? I think I do it more when I teach. But wait -- is it nurture (going to school in Italy) or nature (genetic). Hmmmm? I think you're confused! (I'm teasing you.)

NK -- but do you try to form shapes in the air to represent abstract ideas. I think that's what I do. I think I'm *this close* to being one of those people for whom letters have colors and numbers have taste! :)

ADM -- Well, certainly my *voice* is different in different kinds of writing, but even in blogging and email letters I have a fondness for hyper subordination and multiple clauses, hence the em-dashes (as well as parentheses).

Fast Fizzy said...

I NEVER abuse Italics. I don't abuse Frenchmen or Germans either, for that matter. I thought you were a liberal. I guess not!

PS I give people the finger (if there're smaller or slower than I am)

Dr. Virago said...

OK, you win the award for the "punniest person" in our family, Fast Fizzy.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Oh... well if you want to talk hypersubordination, I'm all over that one! And I love that you had a punked out Civic. I don't know what it is, but wherever I live, there are lowriders. and if I see an old Impala and it's NOT a lowride, I just feel there's something wrong with it!

Dr. Virago said...

ADM -- Huh, I had no idea your area had a lowrider culture, too. Interesting! I'd say more but I don't want to give away too much info about you.

academic coach said...

LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL!

Another Damned Medievalist said...

I wouldn't call it a culture -- although the subset of white boys in lowrider trucks is kinda weird.

But remember, I went to Beachy U as an undergrad, so maybe I just notice the odd lowride more. Hmmm ... but there is a tricked out wildcat in sparkly metallic green with gold spoked wheels about two blocks from me. And the local neighborhood shops alternate between signs in Spanish, Vietnamese, and some other interesting looking south Asian language.

Dr. Virago said...

I once went to an event in Big Sprawling City called "The Blessing of the Cars" (a Franciscan priest's only-in-that-city take on the usual Blessing of the Animals) and discovered that many of the people their with their tricked out cars -- some lowriders -- were white Boomer age folks. And then there was the Latino contingent, mostly from the priest's parish, and the "punkabilly" group (tatooed goth types in cowboy gear -- I made up the name "punkabilly" on the spot). Oddly, there didn't seem to be a lot of Asians, but these cars were more about sleek appearance and cruising and less about high performance, and the Asian car geeks I know are all about high performance. Anyway, I later learned that the lowrider culture in that part of the country started off as a white thing -- and sometimes went hand in hand with the working class side of surfer culture -- and that the Latinos adopted it later. But then this was a white dude telling me this, so I don't know if that's entirely accurate. Suffice to say that there's a long-standing white lowrider contingent.

Wait, how did we end up talking about this in the italics thread? :)