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Author Topic: Do you italicize foreign words?  (Read 855 times)  

Online RRodriguez

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Do you italicize foreign words?
« on: December 06, 2017, 07:20:55 AM »
In my current WIP my characters are speaking Spanish. However, as the book isn't written in Spanish, it' s one of those assumed things. But I'd like to sprinkle in a few real Spanish words here and there to help it feel a bit more authentic, and I notice that books that do this tend to italicize these types of words. Personally, I've always found that INCREDIBLY distracting, as to me italicize means the word has a stress on it or is being emphasized, so when it's used on words that are simply in another language but still spoken with the same inflection, it pulls me directly out of the story. it almost feels insulting in some way I'm not articulate enough to explain.

My initial thought was to do without the italicize since I hate it so much, but then, I know I still have to be careful of publishing norms and realizing not everyone might feel the same as I do about it. What say you? Have you seen any traditional published books that don't italicize foreign words? Or is it ingrained enough in readers' expectations that I should just do it anyway?
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Offline A Fading Street

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Re: Do you italicize foreign words?
« Reply #1 on: December 06, 2017, 07:27:12 AM »
The style guides generally say you should italicize BUT they are only a guide. If you decide not to, that is a style choice you make and it is perfectly legitimate in the same way as any other style choices are. I'm fairly sure most people reading won't notice if you don't other than the odd pedant but you can't please everyone :)
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Offline Lydniz

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Re: Do you italicize foreign words?
« Reply #2 on: December 06, 2017, 07:41:01 AM »
I've quite happily used italics for foreign words throughout my writing career, but it never occurred to me that I'd been insulting anybody by doing it. :) It's the standard approach, but if you prefer not to do it then of course you should go for what works for you. But be consistent - and be aware, too, that some readers will feel the opposite way to you and will be pulled out of the story if you don't italicise your foreign words.

Offline kdiem

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Re: Do you italicize foreign words?
« Reply #3 on: December 06, 2017, 07:42:51 AM »
Whatever you choose, be consistent.

I don't italicize at the suggestion of my editor to avoid hitting the reader with as few walls of italics as possible (thoughts and telepathic conversation are both italicized and my books have both).

This has come up a few times before. Here's a previous thread. https://www.kboards.com/index.php/topic,257139.msg3582268.html#msg3582268

Readers have never said anything one way or the other about italics, though I've gotten nothing but pleased feedback on the glossary of non-English that I included at the end of the book.

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Re: Do you italicize foreign words?
« Reply #4 on: December 06, 2017, 07:52:15 AM »
I don't. I never understood why so many authors do; a non-speaker doesn't know the word whether it's italicized or not. Personally I feel that italicizing Spanish and other non-English words draws negative attention to them. Words are words, and I want to normalize the beauty of all languages. English is not the language.

To help readers discern the meaning, I provide context clues. I haven't received any complaints. I've actually gotten lots of compliments on how I portray my bilingual and diverse characters.

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Offline Mercia McMahon

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Re: Do you italicize foreign words?
« Reply #5 on: December 06, 2017, 08:01:48 AM »
Beware that italics are problematic in some  fonts, which slant certain letters too much. Bigger beware of dropping in Spanish words that some of your readers will not know and cannot guess from the context. I remember reading a volume in a long running detective series where in the preface the author admitted to learning Italian ahead of writing the Italian set story. There were copious Italian words used that with a few minutes to spare you could work out from the context, then she wrote that a car did a (insert Italian word I don't know). Had I not already bought the book I might have lost patience at that point and stopped reading.


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Offline Mercedes Vox

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Re: Do you italicize foreign words?
« Reply #6 on: December 06, 2017, 08:02:51 AM »
I follow CMoS and only italicize foreign words/phrases that are not commonly included in English dictionaries, and even then I only italicize a given foreign word/phrase the first time it's used in the text (in order to signal that the word/phrase isn't a typo).

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Offline TobiasRoote

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Re: Do you italicize foreign words?
« Reply #7 on: December 06, 2017, 08:10:15 AM »
Yes, I use italics if I'm using a foreign language in a book - in short instances it can work very well. However, I've just finished reading a trilogy where there is a French MC and every piece of dialogue she speaks is in French, (then in brackets, the English translation in italics). It threw me out of the book the longer it went on (which was a long, long time). So, yes, use italics (as much as you need), but play down the actual foreign language as much as you can. Think of your reader who doesn't care if you can speak like a native, or not.


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Offline Bards and Sages (Julie)

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Re: Do you italicize foreign words?
« Reply #8 on: December 06, 2017, 08:27:49 AM »
I follow CMoS and only italicize foreign words/phrases that are not commonly included in English dictionaries, and even then I only italicize a given foreign word/phrase the first time it's used in the text (in order to signal that the word/phrase isn't a typo).

This is always how I was taught. Foreign words that have not slipped into the English language are italicized the first time they appear.

Though I would never italicize words in DIALOGUE unless it was for emphasis as I think that would lead to confusion. Dialogue is what the person is actually saying, and italics in dialogue tends to indicate an emphasis on a word in speech.

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Offline northstar

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Re: Do you italicize foreign words?
« Reply #9 on: December 06, 2017, 09:04:57 AM »
I italicize the first appearance of the word, then regular the rest of the time it appears. I also only italicize words from other languages that don't appear in Merriam-Webster.

Offline BrianDHoward

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Re: Do you italicize foreign words?
« Reply #10 on: December 06, 2017, 10:20:10 AM »
This is always how I was taught. Foreign words that have not slipped into the English language are italicized the first time they appear.

Though I would never italicize words in DIALOGUE unless it was for emphasis as I think that would lead to confusion. Dialogue is what the person is actually saying, and italics in dialogue tends to indicate an emphasis on a word in speech.

So far that's what I'e been doing, as well. For the most part it's only words the character is using in a way that would carry emphasis anyway, which helps, I think.
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Re: Do you italicize foreign words?
« Reply #11 on: December 06, 2017, 10:35:14 AM »
I had the same issue (kdiem posted my thread, haha). I ultimately decided not to italicize it. Mostly it was just too darn confusing because a lot of it was in thoughts, which I italicized to show they're thoughts. Like you said, it also kind of seems wrong, but it's hard to explain. I researched this a lot, but I didn't find any convincing-enough arguments for italicizing to make me change it.

Have you seen any traditional published books that don't italicize foreign words?

Yes, actually. ***Okay, look up Daniel Jose Older on Amazon because KBoards won't post the link since he has an accented character in his name. He doesn't italicize and he posted a YouTube video about it also.
« Last Edit: December 06, 2017, 10:39:08 AM by Paranormal Kitty »

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Re: Do you italicize foreign words?
« Reply #12 on: December 06, 2017, 11:49:24 AM »
It is standard to italicize them, and I've seen that a lot. However, as OP mentions, there's this move towards not doing so because italicizing draws attention towards the word or phrase (see what I did there?). Not necessarily negative, but it draws it and sometimes you don't want to draw any such attention.

I think this is up to each author, although I would warn against using too many foreign language words, particularly if said words are words whose meaning the reader can't assume from the context. This is also valuable advice for made-up words: Only use them if the reader can infer what they mean.

As two examples where this works - On The Big Bang Theory (terrible comedy, I know, but it keeps me entertained when I just don't want to think) yiddish terms are often used as insults. And, without having ever heard the word putz before I could infer more or less what it was supposed to mean because of when and how it was used.

In the same vein, in The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse Robert Rankin's characters (though not the MC) often use the word gormster, particularly to refer to the MC. Now, I don't know if Rankin made up the word (which I have since added to my vocabulary for daily use,) but I never had the need to look it up while reading the book, because the context and way it is used made it clear (ie, "what a gormster!", "Stop that, you gormster!" and so on.) Rankin, I must add, never italicized the word itself although he could have.

As for me, I don't really use foreign language words, and only italicize either malapropisms or outright made-up words, partly as a way to show that yes, this is intentional. Although even then, it's often funnier if a malapropism is left non-italicized while making it clear it is the wrong word by showing everyone else's reactions to it.

Either way, I've digressed enough. My take in general with foreign languages would be, if the word will be used often, don't italicize it. And don't overuse foreign languages, particularly if you don't speak them. I've seen a few indie authors using Spanish in their text in such horrible ways it ends up coming off as racist. If you don't speak a language, better not write anything in it except for the odd word or two, and even then do make sure it's properly used. After all, plenty of four-letter words can be translated to other languages yet the usage isn't the same.

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Re: Do you italicize foreign words?
« Reply #13 on: December 06, 2017, 12:33:45 PM »
I follow CMoS and only italicize foreign words/phrases that are not commonly included in English dictionaries, and even then I only italicize a given foreign word/phrase the first time it's used in the text (in order to signal that the word/phrase isn't a typo).

Concur. This is the style we used in journalism (magazine features and fiction) and for fiction in general. The first-time-only ital prevents a distracting mess of italics if the word reappears a few times. It signals that the reader hasn't misread--it really is an out-of-the-ordinary word. OTOH, when I use a foreign word or phrase, I try to follow that with a hint of its meaning in the immediate subsequent text. Nothing ham-handed, but a decent clue so the reader isn't compelled to stop and look it up or shrug and move on unenlightened. If you haven't larded the whole book with a lot of foreign words and phrases, that approach could keep readers in the story.

Offline notjohn

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Re: Do you italicize foreign words?
« Reply #14 on: December 06, 2017, 03:15:41 PM »
If the word is in a standard dictionary (for an American, Webster's Collegiate), then it's not italicized.

Otherwise, it is.

Blitzkreig is not italicized. But schwerpunkt would be, on first occurrence. But if you use it repeatedly, the second and ninth occurrence need not be italicized. (The schwerpunkt is an important facet of blitzkrieg.)
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Re: Do you italicize foreign words?
« Reply #15 on: December 06, 2017, 03:52:30 PM »
Ooh ooh this is a pet peeve of mine when it comes to fiction. I can see the benefit in non-fiction - drawing the eye to an unfamiliar term in order to make the meaning clear? Perfectly sensible. In fiction, I find it off-putting and irritating. Especially in fantasy. *twitch*

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Re: Do you italicize foreign words?
« Reply #16 on: December 06, 2017, 06:02:25 PM »
In my current WIP my characters are speaking Spanish. However, as the book isn't written in Spanish, it' s one of those assumed things. But I'd like to sprinkle in a few real Spanish words here and there to help it feel a bit more authentic, and I notice that books that do this tend to italicize these types of words. Personally, I've always found that INCREDIBLY distracting, as to me italicize means the word has a stress on it or is being emphasized, so when it's used on words that are simply in another language but still spoken with the same inflection, it pulls me directly out of the story. it almost feels insulting in some way I'm not articulate enough to explain.

My initial thought was to do without the italicize since I hate it so much, but then, I know I still have to be careful of publishing norms and realizing not everyone might feel the same as I do about it. What say you? Have you seen any traditional published books that don't italicize foreign words? Or is it ingrained enough in readers' expectations that I should just do it anyway?

Didn't we just have this discussion? Yes, you italicize the foreign words. That's the convention. The readers who don't read Spanish or don't read it well like the foreign words to be italicized since they're just decoration, we're never hearing the rhythm of the speech correctly, so stop worrying about "but if I italicize the word, it will sound more emphatic" to the reader. No, it won't. The reader doesn't know what it sounds like to you anyway. I hate to break it to you, but it sounds like the adults in the Charlie Brown cartoons, your non/poor Spanish speaking readers will NEVER hear it the way you hear it. Never. Doesn't matter what little tricks you use or don't use. So, please, for the love of all the stars in the sky, make it easy on the eyes!  :) Italics lets people skim over the parts they will never understand anyway.








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Offline Steven Hardesty

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Re: Do you italicize foreign words?
« Reply #17 on: December 06, 2017, 06:20:19 PM »
English grammar is fixed, absolute and eternal, and not to be tampered with.  All foreign words used in an English text must be italicized.  Unless those words are frequently used in English, such as albatross, banana, barista, blitzkrieg, buffalo, chocolate, cilantro, cozy, dolce vita, doppelganger, emoji, faux pas, flounder, gumbo, hullabaloo, ipso facto, ketchup, khaki, laissez-faire, mammoth, nouveau riche, powwow, quirt, safari, sombrero, tea, vigilante, Wyoming, yummy, zombie...Oh, well, do whatever you want (that's why I love English). ;)


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Re: Do you italicize foreign words?
« Reply #18 on: December 06, 2017, 07:32:08 PM »
I would get very irritated if I ran across a foreign word or phrase (n'cest pas, mi amour, etc.) that is NOT italicized.  In fact, I'm a little surprised at some of the responses suggesting not italicizing.  To me it would look amateurish and unprofessional.  But obviously, it's up to the writer to do as she/he pleases.


To be clear, this does not pertain to words that started out as foreign words and have been adopted into English, like the ones mentioned by Steven Hardesty.
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Re: Do you italicize foreign words?
« Reply #19 on: December 06, 2017, 08:04:32 PM »
In fact, I'm a little surprised at some of the responses suggesting not italicizing. To me it would look amateurish and unprofessional.

It's professional enough for Scholastic apparently. https://www.amazon.com/Shadowhouse-Fall-Shadowshaper-Cypher-Book-ebook/dp/B01MXKQD4U/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1512617840&sr=8-2&keywords=daniel+jose+older

I seriously don't get all the craziness about italics (or serial commas, but that's another ugly battle). As long as you're not doing something weird like alternating English/foreign words in the same sentence, the italics really make little difference in readability. Especially if the "rule" is to only italicize it on the first occurrence.

*I'll also add that I think younger audiences and young adult readers are much less likely to care, if any of them do at all.
« Last Edit: December 06, 2017, 08:22:02 PM by Paranormal Kitty »

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Re: Do you italicize foreign words?
« Reply #20 on: December 06, 2017, 08:51:52 PM »
Didn't we just have this discussion? Yes, you italicize the foreign words. That's the convention. The readers who don't read Spanish or don't read it well like the foreign words to be italicized since they're just decoration, we're never hearing the rhythm of the speech correctly, so stop worrying about "but if I italicize the word, it will sound more emphatic" to the reader. No, it won't. The reader doesn't know what it sounds like to you anyway. I hate to break it to you, but it sounds like the adults in the Charlie Brown cartoons, your non/poor Spanish speaking readers will NEVER hear it the way you hear it. Never. Doesn't matter what little tricks you use or don't use. So, please, for the love of all the stars in the sky, make it easy on the eyes!  :) Italics lets people skim over the parts they will never understand anyway.

I'm not annoyed because I happen to know Spanish. This happens with all foreign words. I once read a novel that sprinkled in a few French words, and even though I don't speak French I felt constantly pulled out of the novel because I still associate italicise with emphasis, and it didn't make sense for the main character to say grandmother with a stress on it. I know in reality she's NOT actually stressing the word, but I see those italics and my brain instantly thinks she's saying it with some kind of weird weight to it. It's not just something I notice now as a writer, I've had this same thought since grade school. Instead of just letting the word be a word, it feels like the author is pounding me in the face with 'Remember how DIVERSE this book is? They use DIFFERENT words than you!'

It's like how others put it, if there's enough context clues leading to the word, then why bother pointing out its 'otherness' even more?
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Re: Do you italicize foreign words?
« Reply #21 on: December 07, 2017, 03:26:53 AM »
It's like how others put it, if there's enough context clues leading to the word, then why bother pointing out its 'otherness' even more?

For me (and for millions of other readers, I imagine) it's a matter of how we read.  In regular text, my brain starts to 'read' the words phonetically, in the manner I've been doing all my life.  That doesn't always work out when the word is 'foreign' to the reader.  It's read as gibberish in that split second before realizing it's not a familiar (English) word, but is in fact a French phrase, or a word in Latin.  I don't want to read gibberish.  As someone else mentioned, that's enough to pull me out of the story and force me to read the sentence again.  And for readers there's nothing more annoying than that.   I don't believe I've ever read a book in which foreign words or phrases were not italicized.  And if I do, I probably won't be reading that author again.
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Offline RTW

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Re: Do you italicize foreign words?
« Reply #22 on: December 07, 2017, 04:26:45 AM »
Indie author who's also a professional copy editor chiming in here. If you want to know what the industry standards are, every publisher I work for has a different take on this, although there's agreement on a few things: (1) If the word's in Webster's 11th edition and isn't described as a foreign term, it doesn't get italicized unless the word appears in a sentence or phrase that's entirely in that foreign language. (2) Italicize the first instance of a foreign term. After that, it's not necessary . . . depending on the publisher.

However, the hell with all that. If you don't want to italicize something, don't! You're a novelist and an indie. Part of the joy of being indie is being able to do things the way you want.

BTW, I don't think it's insulting to put a non-English word in italics, and I think readers are pretty used to seeing it done that way. OTOH, readers generally accept whatever they see as being just fine. I mean, it may be industry standard to put characters' direct thoughts in italics, for example, but there are many authors who don't do that and the meaning is still very clear.

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Offline Dean Kutzler

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Re: Do you italicize foreign words?
« Reply #23 on: December 07, 2017, 04:40:38 AM »
I always italicize foreign words. I even put the English word next to it if it is too hard to glean the meaning. But...I don't speak any other language than english, so, I like seeing them that way. Do you speak Spanish? Maybe that is why you don't like seeing it? Think of the reader, always.
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Re: Do you italicize foreign words?
« Reply #24 on: December 07, 2017, 09:02:53 AM »
For me (and for millions of other readers, I imagine) it's a matter of how we read.  In regular text, my brain starts to 'read' the words phonetically, in the manner I've been doing all my life.  That doesn't always work out when the word is 'foreign' to the reader.  It's read as gibberish in that split second before realizing it's not a familiar (English) word, but is in fact a French phrase, or a word in Latin.  I don't want to read gibberish.  As someone else mentioned, that's enough to pull me out of the story and force me to read the sentence again.  And for readers there's nothing more annoying than that.   I don't believe I've ever read a book in which foreign words or phrases were not italicized.  And if I do, I probably won't be reading that author again.

This is a personal preference though. I don't think it's fair to say "amateur" or "unprofessional" when there are professional trad-pub authors who don't italicize. It's a valid stylistic choice. Just because it's not everyone's cup of tea doesn't make it wrong. I seriously doubt that "millions" of readers would put a book down or swear off the author for un-italicized foreign words if they were otherwise engaged in the story. Someone who discards a book over petty things like that probably wasn't that into it in the first place.