18 July 2011

What Latin Phrases to Italicize in Formal Writing?

When writing formally, you'll probably have to use some Latin or other foreign words or phrases, like "e.g.", "viz.", "inter alia", "etc.", etc. Do you italicize them? Or do you not? Actually, some you do italicize, while others you don't. So how do you figure out which is which?

The rule of thumb is, if the word or short phrase has been so commonly used in English writing that it's immediately recognizable to an English reader, meaning the word or phrase has been assimilated into current English usage, then don't italicize it (i.e. it is anglicized and should be set in roman). If the phrase is an abbreviation of a Latin phrase, also don't italicize it. Finally, don't italicize foreign proper names, foreign names of people, institutions, places, etc., and also usually not for foreign quotation.

Otherwise, italicize the word or phrase to show that it's foreign. When writing italicized foreign words or phrases, make sure to put in the appropriate accents and diacritical marks (this means that for German nouns, the initial letter is capitalized.

But which words or short phrases are commonly used in English enough not to be italicized? It could be a tough call. To help you, here's a compiled listing of frequently used foreign phrases and whether to italicize them:

Common Foreign (e.g. Latin) Phrases and Whether to Italicize Them
Do Italicize Don't Italicize
ex ante
Länder
carte blanche
cabinet (French type)
de jure*
in camera
glasnost
intifada
loya jirga
Mitbestimmung
papabile
perestroika
ujamaa
coup de foudre
e.g.
etc.
et al.
et seq.
ibid.
i.e.
NB
op. cit.
ad hoc
ad infinitum
inter alia
per capita
per se
role
pro forma
status quo
café
alias
detour
ad hoc
apartheid
a priori
a propos
avant-garde
bona fide
bourgeois
coup d'état
de facto
de jure*
elite
en masse
en route
in situ
machismo
nouveau riche
parvenu
pogrom
post mortem
putsch
raison d'être
realpolitik
status quo
vice versa
vis-à-vis
* There is a conflict in the sources I consulted on whether to italicize "de jure", so I'm going to cop out and just say you should decide based on your own judgement of which geographic region and reading level the audience community you are writing for comes from.

If a word or phrase isn't in the above list, check the New Oxford dictionary for writers and editors for whether or not to italicize it, or check to see if the word or phrase is in the Merriam-Webster Online (if it is, don't italicize it).

The above listing was compiled from the following three sources, which are my "go to" sources for all my formal writing style guide needs because they are free and professional:
  1. Italics (Europa Interinstitutional Style Guide)
  2. Italics (Economist.com Style Guide)
  3. English Style Guide (European Commission Directorate-General for Translation)

4 comments:

Survival Jones said...

Thank you, this is incredibly helpful!
Amazing to see it so clearly laid out like this, I feel that I will be a recurrent visitor.

June said...

Thank you for this! Very helpful!

June said...

Thank you for this! Very helpful!

AB DE -Villers said...

nice write