Thursday, July 23, 2009

Grammar: Italicize me

The CEO and President of Authorlink emailed me today with a proposal, what she called a "possible small assignment." I was immediately intrigued. Authorlink receives a lot of manuscripts for critique, the first 60 pages, and she asked if I would be interested in doing the in-depth critiques and a line edit on the first 30 pages. What could I say? "No, thank you. I'm not interested." As Gram used to say, "I'm dumb, but I'm not stupid." I then squealed loudly, hitting the high registers and startling some people walking toward the door to visit the doctor in the building behind me. I hope their heart is all right.

I went over the sample that Elaine, my supervisor at Authorlink for the past six years, sent me and decided it was time to brush up on my grammar skills. Strunk and White, while quite thorough, doesn't go into much of the nuance of grammar that is now expected of me and I am frankly a bit rusty. I have several websites bookmarked and went to my favorite immediately. I browsed. I studied. I decided that there was something I had been doing incorrectly that I could share as a grammar goof.

Yes, I do make grammar goofs on occasion. It's all part of the rusty skills part.

I chose to focus on italics today for a couple of reasons: I am very busy with work and I have a pile of books I need to get through in between sleeping and working. Eating is not an option, except as a quick bite with bathroom breaks.

In preparing manuscripts for publication, I was taught that any words to be italicized should be underlined. That was before advent of word processing programs and email submissions. Many publishers, like mine, L&L Dreamspell, prefer words in italics to be italicized and not underlined, as they explained in the first editing pass of Past Imperfect. I thought I was doing it right, and I was, if you do things the old fashioned way, and I did. I read publishing guidelines carefully or check with publishers to find out what they prefer.

Italics are used in the titles of magazines, books, newspapers, academic journals, films, television shows, long poems, plays of three or more acts, operas, musical albums, works of art, websites, and individual trains, planes, or ships.

One of those really surprised me: websites. Oops.

The New Yorker

Boys in the Band
by Matt Crowley

Adoration of the Magi by Bartolomé Estéban Murillo

Simply Irresistible

Foreign words are italicized.

"Dio mio! Maria held her hand to her heart. Tears left dark tracks in the flour dust on her cheeks when Angelo appeared in the doorway.

Words or phrases to be emphasized are italicized.

"Oh, you meant it that way."

When referring to a word, the word is italicized

The word critique means more than just criticize.

Okay, so I know most of these, but the rules change all the time. English is a fluid language and the rules often seem to be just as fluid. There are some rules that never change -- or at least they shouldn't.

  1. Check submission guidelines carefully.

  2. Thoroughly check your manuscripts before submission to make sure the guidelines are followed. Don't underline words to be italicized half the time and italicize them the rest of the time. Be consistent.

  3. Don't rely on spell check because it will not catch grammar mistakes even with the grammar option checked.

  4. Read your work out loud. Your ear will catch what your eyes miss. You could also join a critique group; fresh eyes, like readers' eyes, pick up what you or your editor might have missed.

  5. Bookmark a good grammar site and refer to it when in doubt or just to refresh the fading memory. A site like The OWL at Purdue is a good site and very thorough.

We all make mistakes, and they don't have to be fatal, so when someone points out a mistake don't get angry. Thank them and make the changes. Ask questions if you're not sure why something should be done a certain way. Be generous when it's your turn to correct someone else's mistakes, especially if they're an old hand at the grammar game. No matter how much you learn or how much you think you know, the mind -- and the fingers -- will play tricks on you or simply fail you when you least expect.

Grammar, like life, is a learning process, and the best way to stay abreast of changes and brush off the rust is to keep rereading and checking good resources. Even they make mistakes, as I found out when preparing this post. Someone didn't know an artist's name in one of their examples was misspelled: Wassily Kandinsky. They forgot there are two Ns in Kandinsky.

Until next week, may all your grammar goofs be small ones and easily fixed.

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