Artemy Lebedev

§ 79. Bold or italics?

December 28, 2001




It happened somehow that in its brief history book printing has failed to produce any diversity on the typesetting side. Uniformity may be scaled down by using different fonts, formats and sizes.



If a text has been composed in some font, the further maneuvers you may want to take are pretty much limited. You may change the leading, letter spacing, alignment. Apart from half a dozen punctuation marks, there are hardly any means to stress intonation in writing.



There are several other typographical means of semantic marking. These means are broken down into the acceptable and unacceptable categories.



Acceptable means: boldface and italics. Unacceptable means: splitting, underlining, color highlighting. I’d like to note that these three ways are unacceptable in the main text body. They will do fine in a jobbing work (i.e. as special artistic decoration, for captions, on billboards etc.). But in a book (the author is unflinchingly committed to this belief) spacing out or underlining are off-limits: these tricks are the aftermath of typewriters’ helpless attempts to make words stand out one way or another.



What it boils down to is that the only two acceptable ways of highlighting words in the text that we’ve inherited from our forerunners are boldface and italics.




Housekeeping tip

Italics were first used in printing by the printer Aldus Manutius in the late 15th century. Cursive fonts were styled to imitate the typeface of the Papal Chancellery documents. Since the whole affair was staged in Italy, the font that later on spread across Europe was called in a similar way—Italian. These days every secretary knows it as italic.




You don’t need to worry about your soul when using boldface and italics in composition. Boldface better fits captions, italics—the emphasizing of words without changing the visual uniformity of the page. Boldface can also be used for emphasizing words in the text, but it has a special feature: a word in bold is too conspicuous and can be seen on the page long before the reader gets around to the fragment being emphasized. This can be the cause for the reader to be prematurely let in on the secret that the author had in store, so italics would be a better tool here. They emphasize words distinctively enough without leaping to the eye before it reaches the relevant line. For example:



I have tonight shaved la barba—what you call the weeskers of the Presidente himself, of this countree! I have tonight shaved la barba—what you call the weeskers of the Presidente himself, of this countree!



If we speak about correct use, italic typeface is best for a typeset text, boldface—for captions.



Just as with any other special means, you should not overuse the tools of emphasis. Typesetting the entire page in italics would be disrespect to the reader’s eyesight.



If you need to emphasize a word in a boldface text, use bold italics. Bold italics amid ordinary text are almost always illicit. Example:



I have tonight shaved la barba—what you call the weeskers of the Presidente himself, of this countree!



If you need to stress a word in an italics text, use ordinary, non-italics typeface. Example:



I have tonight shaved la barba—what you call the weeskers of the Presidente himself, of this countree!



You must have really compelling reasons for using bold italics in a text which is fully typeset in italics. Boldface normally serves illustrative and advertising purposes and hardly ever finds its way into fiction texts. Italics, on the other hand, are a very good option for fiction and quotes. Examples:



If you don’t buy our plastic tubes, you’ll be haunted by nightmares in your afterlife and lose the entire meaning of your existence. Plastic tubes are your only hope in this complicated world. I think it was the first time I heard that word, which went on to have an incredibly sleazy career in the seventies and coke-soaked eighties. Mostly in politics. I think credibility died of shame around 1986…






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