#72 Boldface & Italic
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#72 Boldface & Italic is about the two most common text variations in publishing—both used too much & too wrong.
Some writers—let’s call them overemphasizers—just can’t get enough boldface & italic. If they feel strongly about the point they’re making, they won’t hesitate to run the whole paragraph in bold type. Don’t be one of these people. This habit wears down your readers’ retinas & their patience. It also gives you nowhere to go when you need to emphasize a word.
That’s no problem for overemphasizers, though, who resort to underlining bold text or using bold italic. These are both bad ideas.
(The two paragraphs above, set in boldface & italic, are from Butterick’s Practical Typography. It is so well-stated—quite humorously & sadly true—about overemphasizers, many of whom I’ve encountered as overzealous clients, I couldn’t help but just reprint it nearly verbatim. More from Butterick’s below.)
Boldface & italic treatments are somewhat interchangeable, but they really do each have their own flavor of emphasis or character. Other variations for type are caps & small caps, but that’ll be the theme for another AmperArt installment.
Text that is neither bold nor italic is called roman.
Roman? The Tower of Pisa seems to be italicized, doesn’t it? Oh—it’s in Pisa, not Rome.
Italic Tower of Pisa
Where to use boldface & italic
Boldface is great for subheads or anywhere you need to attract the eye.
Italics should be used for book titles, long poems, plays, television shows and films, artworks & song titles; titles of newspapers, journals, magazines & radio series; names of ships & airplanes; specific editions of sacred texts; legal cases.
Foreign words used in English are sometimes italicized, sometimes not, depending on how common they are. For instance, you would italicize your zuppa Toscana & sfogliatelle, but not your lasagna & cannoli.
But that’s not all.
For a complete list on how to properly apply boldface & italic, as well as a comprehensive reference for all other editing rules and tips, pick up a copy of Carolyn Howard Johnson’s The Frugal Editor, available at Amazon.com.
This book will save you hundreds of dollars in editing fees—& thousands if you do your own editing & you want to make sure everything is spot-on perfect before ink hits paper without any typos in the printed publications.
The Frugal Editor is worth every frugal penny you spend on it. The cover design is brilliant, too.
2 rules for boldface & italic
According to & paraphrased from Butterick’s Practical Typography (a free online guide):
Boldface or italic—always think of them as mutually exclusive. That is the first rule. (So much for the title of this AmperArt piece, Boldface & Italic.)
The second rule is to use boldface & italic as little as possible. They are tools for emphasis. But if everything is emphasized, then nothing is emphasized. Also, because boldface & italic styles are designed to contrast with regular roman text, they’re somewhat harder to read. Like ALL CAPS, boldface & italic are fine for short stretches of text, but not for long ones.
Some fonts have both a bold style and a semibold style. And some have styles that are heavier than bold, like black or ultra. These weights are usually intended for large sizes (for instance, headlines) and don’t work well at the size range of most body text.
Boldface & italic also means boldface & italic
For those of you who just can’t inject enough emphasis into your elegant prose, there’s the other meaning of boldface & italic:
Set the text in a font that is both boldface & italic, such as this.
But let’s not stop there.
HOW ABOUT SOME CAPS? LET’S NOT FORGET THE EXCLAMATION POINT! AND RED INK! WITH UNDERSCORE! & YELLOW HIGHLIGHT!
You might be exclaiming, “Add more exclamation points!” That’s where I draw the line. I never use more than one. As soon as I see multiple exclamation points after a sentence I automatically place the writer in amateur league. If a piece is written well, you don’t need any. Bill Bernbach, whose agency created the innovative VW ads in in the ’60s, never used an exclamation point. Best headline ever:
An exclamation point is like a symbol crash. Are two or three (or five or six, you screamers) more effective? No. They diminish the punch. Just one.
Suggesting boldface & italic the old-fashioned way
In the days of typewriters, emphasis was achieved in several ways, the most common underlining (you had to first type the words, then backspace and add the underline). This represented boldface & italic for emphasis, but always italic for indicating a book or film title. ALL CAPS was used to draw attention, or to indicate headings and subheads. And boldface achieved by actually backspacing the carriage and typing the text over two or three times until it was bold. In “modern” typewriters there were interchangeable balls and wheels that contained different fonts, another means of achieving boldface & italic.
And there was the two-color ribbon, red & black. That emphasized more than boldface & italic combined!