How did using italics for quoting become house style? October 17, 2010 11:54 AM   Subscribe

How did using italics for quoting become house style? If it didn't just evolve, who pushed it and why?
posted by Joe Beese to MetaFilter-Related at 11:54 AM (82 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

People were using italics for quotes from the very beginning.
posted by maqsarian at 11:57 AM on October 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


I know you were probably joking, but in case people don't notice the dates: That italics-quoting comment was posted two years after the Cat Scan FPP itself. I'd be surprised if that were the first instance of it.
posted by jedicus at 12:02 PM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


This totally lets Obama off the hook.
posted by found missing at 12:02 PM on October 17, 2010 [18 favorites]


Did the site even have italics at the beginning? I just looked through a bunch of 1999-2000 posts and didn't notice anyone using italics for quotes ... or using italics at all, or using anything else for quotes. I also noticed people using *asterisks* the way you'd normally use italics.

Another thing is that there were almost no extended discussions early on; I don't think any thread had 10 or more comments in 1999, and most of them had 0-2 comments.
posted by John Cohen at 12:13 PM on October 17, 2010


To my knowledge there was never any sort of official declaration of house style; I think italicized inline quotation was just a common enough idea at the time that a lot of people naturally used it when they came to mefi.

Doing some really quick searching, I didn't find anything obvious to the contrary, but I did find a bunch of old thread sort of on the topic so I'm going to go Memory Lane here. And so:

Here's a couple of 2002 two metatalk discussions about (among other things) quotation style and convention, if you're curious about what people were thinking in the relatively early years of the site.

Here's another from that year that's more general peevery but includes e.g. opinions about italic vs. other.

And wandering a bit farther from the quoting-fellow-users question, here's some 2004 debate about the use of italics for pullquotes in posts, and another from 2001 on that same general subject, and a thread from 2005 about a notional 'quote tag'.

Time marches a long: a thread about quotation style from 2007.

Amusingly, three of the first four Metatalk threads that mention "italics" in the text are reports of runaway unclosed tags. Followed by the announcement of a fix.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:15 PM on October 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


This is the earliest example I could find, posted on February 23, 2000.

This is the earliest example I could find that is quoting another comment, from March 2, 2000.

And here's an amusing tidbit: jessamyn signing a post, Todd Lokken style.
posted by jedicus at 12:17 PM on October 17, 2010 [10 favorites]


It's probably worth mentioning that the March 2, 2000 comment is in a thread that features multiple uses of the italic quote style in a back-and-forth between CrazyUncleJoe and jason.
posted by jedicus at 12:19 PM on October 17, 2010


Yeah, I scanned through all of 1999 posts that had a at least one comment and none used italics. Though it was strange to see an Apple post with only one comment!

On preview, damn too slow.
posted by nomadicink at 12:20 PM on October 17, 2010


Here's a bizarrely long thread from March 2000 (over 1,000 comments). All the quotes I noticed used block indentation (sometimes preceded by "[username] wrote:" -- here's one by mathowie), not italics.
posted by John Cohen at 12:22 PM on October 17, 2010


Did the site even have italics at the beginning?

It supported them, but there may not have been little buttons for it at the beginning. I'm not sure when those got added; here's a 2000 thread where Matt announced some experimental hotkeys, though, and an early 2001 thread where he mentions having and then nixing buttons, so he was at least playing with them pretty early on even if it was a while before we got the familiar little guys that now feel like they've been around forever. (And which I never, ever used until I got an iPhone, actually.)

Another thing is that there were almost no extended discussions early on; I don't think any thread had 10 or more comments in 1999, and most of them had 0-2 comments.

This is I think the key thing anyone looking to track the evolution of quotation will have to deal with, yeah. Conversation on the site didn't kick in right away; the earliest threads were overachievers if they managed to crack double digit comments at all. I dug through a bunch of that several years ago, here's a quick look at the first hundred threads or so.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:23 PM on October 17, 2010


I remember a lot of interviews from print magazines would have the text of the interviewer in italics or bold (sometimes both) and the response of the person in normal text. The internet probably just picked up on that.
posted by nomadicink at 12:24 PM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here's a bizarrely long thread from March 2000 (over 1,000 comments). All the quotes I noticed used block indentation (sometimes preceded by "[username] wrote:" -- here's one by mathowie), not italics.

Which is a little weird because the comments in that thread continued on into 2001 and fairly late into 2002, long after italic quoting had become common.

Also, one of the reasons it's so long is that bradlands started running a text adventure in the middle of the thread.
posted by jedicus at 12:26 PM on October 17, 2010


Here's a bizarrely long thread from March 2000 (over 1,000 comments)

For early 2000 the size of the actual thread-thread is notable, but the main thing going on there is that it was a cult thread. The large majority of the activity in there happened well after the thread would in modern times have closed. There's a good number of those in the archives, posted early on and then returned to after the fact, sometimes in waves, occasionally en masse, by mefites bored or prankster-minded and wanting to be a bit silly where few people would see it immediately.

Between automatic thread closures and Recent Activity that sort of thing is basically impossible these days.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:29 PM on October 17, 2010


OK, but the blockquoting in that thread happened in March 2000. Once it got into February 2001 and beyond, people used italics to quote. Example, example.
posted by John Cohen at 12:40 PM on October 17, 2010


OK, but the blockquoting in that thread happened in March 2000. Once it got into February 2001 and beyond, people used italics to quote.

Okay, so indeed italics quoting had become fairly entrenched by then, enough so that it affected people's quoting habits even in threads that did not start with that style as the norm.
posted by jedicus at 12:46 PM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yep.
posted by John Cohen at 12:47 PM on October 17, 2010


It supported them, but there may not have been little buttons for it at the beginning

I remember a lot of discussion about them early on as well; here is a 2002 thread about them working in some browsers but not others, here is one from 2005 specifically about them not appearing in Safari (an issue I remember well, since I saw them on Windows boxes at work but not on my Mac at home.)

As for italics, I dug around a little in the early posts to see if they were used from the beginning, and didn't find anything, but there were a lot of interesting posts, including this gem. Now I wonder when Matt started closing threads to new comments.
posted by TedW at 12:49 PM on October 17, 2010


My favorite convention is to use something like this:

> People were using italics for quotes from the very beginning.

But too often I am too lazy to use the >.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:57 PM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hah! I was like, "time traveler! oh wait."
posted by Rhomboid at 12:59 PM on October 17, 2010


Now I wonder when Matt started closing threads to new comments.

July 29, 2002.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:02 PM on October 17, 2010


And from that thread, this comment from rcade in which he regularizes the nominal "cathy" in "chatty cathy" to give it the standard "ies" plural suffix. Apropos of nothing, I just think language is neat.

Also interesting to see initial worries about gamesmanship re: double in that thread, and quickly dismissed.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:09 PM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think this is one of those usage norms that is in flux right now, everywhere. Quoting in some contexts carries a connotation of mockery or derision. Italics in some contexts carries a connotation of hyperbole or emphasis. But both "quoting" and italics serve to abstract from the meaning of the message and point to it, at a meta level. So I think we're just seeing an overall trend being worked out instance by instance, as well as being used one way or another, depending on particular context-specific instances.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:12 PM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I cannot speak for the site, obviously, but ever since joining I (consciously or otherwise) pushed the italics-for-quoting convention as it looks classier, in my opinion, and more conversational.
posted by joe lisboa at 1:16 PM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love the *asterisks* convention, btw. It's like two starry bug eyes, flipping out. "Holy shit, look at *this* word," they seem to say.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:17 PM on October 17, 2010 [8 favorites]


"I also noticed people using *asterisks* the way you'd normally use italics."

In the old days, when most online communication happened through IRC and listservs (and newsgroups, though I never knew enough about the broader ng culture, only being on a couple of hyper local ones that you could access through a local BBS — and may have even been just repostings), many, many clients didn't support modifying text at all. No bold, no italics, certainly none of this font stuff or even links. So *asterisks* were italics, and ALL CAPS was bold.

I'm trying to remember what the IRC code was that would have the client denote that the user was performing an action. Was it just the > ?
posted by klangklangston at 1:28 PM on October 17, 2010


I'm trying to remember what the IRC code was that would have the client denote that the user was performing an action.

I believe that's /me. As in "/me demonstrates the use of /me" would get posted as "jedicus demonstrates the use of /me," and many clients will color-code or otherwise denote it as an action.
posted by jedicus at 1:32 PM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've noticed people gradually switching to just preceding a message with the username of the person they're speaking to and a comma. This sounds more conversational but sometimes sounds a little condescending. I'm now starting to put the username and a colon instead of quoting. I don't know whether people will dig that or not. I never seem to know whether I'm being a boor.
posted by Xezlec at 1:36 PM on October 17, 2010


Apropos of nothing, I just think language is neat.

Apropos of that sentence, quit stealing my favorite sentence beginning! (j/k)
posted by John Cohen at 1:44 PM on October 17, 2010


I've noticed people gradually switching to just preceding a message with the username of the person they're speaking to and a comma.

I prefer italics-quoting the actual words rather than referring to the poster by name. I like to think it encourages me (and others) to focus on the message rather than the messenger. I may be deluding myself about that, though.
posted by jedicus at 1:51 PM on October 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm a "second time round" member whose original account had four digits. In the earliest days, i do remember support for some basic styles, but there were no "shorthand" buttons, you had to know which HTML tags would work and IIRC you had to enter them entirely manually using character entities for the angle brackets... As someone pointed out above, conventions that used commonly typeable characters were a lot more common. For some reason, I think asterisks translated to "bold" in some type system or other, and it was used in many places to imply that same emphasis, even when the display system did not actually output bolded text.

Of course, i also walked eleven miles to school, in the snow, with no shoes, and a steel brace for my polio limp, but god DAMN it gave me CHARACTER!
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 2:04 PM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I also noticed people using *asterisks* the way you'd normally use italics."

I do this in mefimail, for precisely the reason klang mentions re: older text-based communication clients. Simple, unambiguous emphasis. Some folks use _underlines_ instead, but I think that looks a bit silly.

I believe that's /me.

Yup. I will sometimes use /me syntax in contexts where I know it will not parse, as a sort of jokey "look at me, attempting and failing to use local conventions to express this third-person emotive self-description" thing.

Mostly it's just Jessamyn via gchat who has to put up with that, I suppose.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:16 PM on October 17, 2010


*pours out a libation for 1142*
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:33 PM on October 17, 2010 [7 favorites]


Yup. I will sometimes use /me syntax in contexts where I know it will not parse, as a sort of jokey "look at me, attempting and failing to use local conventions to express this third-person emotive self-description" thing.

iChat (Apple's IM client) actually handles /me and renders it as an action.
posted by zachlipton at 3:07 PM on October 17, 2010


I prefer italics-quoting the actual words rather than referring to the poster by name. I like to think it encourages me (and others) to focus on the message rather than the messenger.

Oh. Good enough for me. I'll use that as my excuse and go back to the italics then.
posted by Xezlec at 3:14 PM on October 17, 2010


perhaps the funniest MeTa.

In fairness Evanizer posted his goodbye message on his own site, rather than having a big ol' --------- "Can I have a moment of your time?" display here in the gray.

I'll give him style points for that, but anyone writing a meficide note knows that it will likely be the subject of public hand-wringing here. Especially when our own Cruise Director Julie is one of his weblog's visitors.
posted by rcade at 10:37 AM on October 4, 2002 [+] [!]
posted by clavdivs at 3:48 PM on October 17, 2010


No, this was the funniest MeTa.

No, this was...

No, this...
posted by John Cohen at 3:52 PM on October 17, 2010


quite
posted by clavdivs at 4:04 PM on October 17, 2010


Italics were part of the second wave, following closely on the heels of the Germanics, who used Gothic font for emphasis.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:45 PM on October 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's easier to distinguish italics from quotation marks; which was the accepted usage convention for direct quotations of spoken words for those of us who learned to write before word processors and Internet discussions became common. I just naturally started doing it, when I went online in 1999, I never even thought about it.

No one has ever questioned me about it before, including some pretty dedicated language hounds I've encountered; which (I think ) shows its efficacy.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 5:25 PM on October 17, 2010


And here's an amusing tidbit: jessamyn signing a post, Todd Lokken style.

And commenting in all lowercase!
posted by amro at 5:37 PM on October 17, 2010


I use * for denoting physical actions *rolls eyes*
posted by Ironmouth at 5:40 PM on October 17, 2010


> Now I wonder when Matt started closing threads to new comments.

July 29, 2002.


Pissed me off, too. One of the things I'd been looking forward to was posting in cult threads, and Matt shut them down just before I joined.
posted by languagehat at 6:00 PM on October 17, 2010


So *asterisks* were italics, and ALL CAPS was bold

I though this was /italics/ and this *bold*, though you used to see the former a lot less often.
posted by tallus at 6:10 PM on October 17, 2010


*shakes head no*

Asterisks are actions.
posted by nomadicink at 6:13 PM on October 17, 2010


It supported them, but there may not have been little buttons for it at the beginning

Dammit. I didn't even notice that there were buttons until you mentioned it. I've been manually typing in HTML tags like a chump.

And Gchat translates asterisks to bold and underscores to italics.
posted by maryr at 6:33 PM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


For what it's worth, I used to hang out on a forum in 1998-99 that had a pretty well-entrenched convention of italicizing quotes, so this isn't just some esoteric metafilter thing. I think it's probably just the most graceful way to quote something in HTML.
posted by malapropist at 6:33 PM on October 17, 2010


"Yup. I will sometimes use /me syntax in contexts where I know it will not parse, as a sort of jokey "look at me, attempting and failing to use local conventions to express this third-person emotive self-description" thing."

It's weird that the action syntax is the same that's used by default for facebook status updates.
posted by klangklangston at 6:38 PM on October 17, 2010


I use * for denoting physical actions *rolls eyes*

::stares intently at the keyboard and taps the colon key twice::
*remembers that no one uses that anymore*
posted by Xezlec at 6:40 PM on October 17, 2010


I think it's probably just the most graceful way to quote something in HTML.

Well, there is the q tag: This is a quote. It automatically inserts quotes. It's language-sensitive, so it should render it with whatever quotation style is appropriate for the user, or the quotation style can be specified, although MeFi doesn't support the tag attributes necessary for that.

It can also handle quotes-within-quotes. Cogito ergo sum, wrote Descartes.

So arguably that's more graceful. Shoot, compared to em tags it even saves a character—and gets your q key a little exercise to boot.
posted by jedicus at 6:45 PM on October 17, 2010


Pissed me off, too. One of the things I'd been looking forward to was posting in cult threads, and Matt shut them down just before I joined.

I know what you mean; I didn't realize it until your comment made me check, but I joined the day before you did.
posted by TedW at 6:51 PM on October 17, 2010


Mostly it's just Jessamyn via gchat who has to put up with that, I suppose.

I didn't really come up through IRC stuff so this just looks like another typo to me.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:46 PM on October 17, 2010


We have previously discussed that the correct semantics are BLOCKQUOTE and nothing else. Actual presentation of same is another issue. Only keeners type it out; everyone else is incapable or lazy.

Also, it is not “inline” quoting we’re talking about.
posted by joeclark at 9:21 PM on October 17, 2010


I am not skilled at HTML and have never used blockquotes, so I use italics.
If you want blockquotes, maybe we could have a button?
posted by SLC Mom at 11:18 PM on October 17, 2010


Let it be hereby noted that by noon tomorrow, a new, lithe and attractive quoting style shall slowly begin to permeate MetaFilter. It will be inadvertently kicked off by an SEO spammer attempting to embed meta tags inside his FPP about gold sales, but shortly after deletion someone will use it ironically within the MeTa thread about the SEO spammer, and our lives will all change for the better.

the future: it's what i do
posted by davejay at 11:34 PM on October 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


*incites flash mob in favor of italics*
posted by Cranberry at 11:36 PM on October 17, 2010


you should be glad we're not using
pre to indicate quotes.
posted by krautland at 3:30 AM on October 18, 2010


Joe Beese: "How did using italics for quoting become house style?"

I think it's funny that in a thread about quoting and I'm the first person to use the default Mefiquote style. Do I need to change the default Mefiquote style?
posted by Plutor at 5:53 AM on October 18, 2010


It is because this is what happens when you use the <cite> tag.

Seriously. Text in italics is one of the standard US quoting styles* -- the other two being to use quotation marks and, for longer quotations, the indented paragraph -- which is why HTML has had, since the first published version of the spec, the <cite> and <blockquote> tags. The original purpose of the <cite> tag, of course, was for acutally listing the source of a citiation, but on the web, it quickly evolved to setting off quotes themselves -- mainly because italics is easy now.

<cite> was supposed to merely do the right thing, depending on the device that was displaying the hypertext, which <I> was an explicit call for italics (see also <strong>/<b>).

The problem with quotation marks on the web is twofold. One, quotation marks often have significance to those in the IT industry. Secondly, the usage of them in what The Chicago Manual of Style calls "scare quotes", which tends to make them dicey. Esp. around here.

Finally, the italics at top mirrors nicely the ">" marked top quote used in email and on USENET by all good souls.

So, really, the reason you should use italics for quotes on MeFi?

Because.

*1 My ass (2010).
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
posted by eriko at 6:27 AM on October 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


I remember that blockquote used to look not great. I think there was a lot of extra space around the tag because it was still adding the line breaks.
posted by smackfu at 6:54 AM on October 18, 2010


*Fucks chicken*
posted by Mister_A at 7:43 AM on October 18, 2010


*Fists chicken*
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:53 AM on October 18, 2010


Plutor: "Do I need to change the default Mefiquote style?"

I don't think so, but I'm obviously biased. I think people get new computers or start using new browsers and don't bother reinstalling Mefiquote. A lot of people probably aren't aware it works in Chrome out of the box, for example, and others may not bother reinstalling GreaseMonkey in Firefox when they get a new machine.

This is one of those things that's useful enough to the site that I'd love to see it integrated into the real UI, but I understand the desire to avoid feature creep and UI clutter for people who don't really participate in quote-based conversation threads (mostly AskMe, I assume).
posted by Riki tiki at 8:03 AM on October 18, 2010


I though this was /italics/ and this *bold*, though you used to see the former a lot less often.

Yeah, I've always used them that way. Currently the thunderbird mail client automatically /italicizes/, *bolds*, and _underscores_ when I use them.

::also agrees with Xezlec::
posted by oneirodynia at 9:13 AM on October 18, 2010



::gives rose to Metafilter mods::

@--->>---->

(Do people still do that?)
posted by zizzle at 10:21 AM on October 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


That depends, are you people or one of the lizard creatures in human form trying to slowly rise to a position power and control the human race?
posted by nomadicink at 10:25 AM on October 18, 2010


Metafilter /= Doctor Who, unfortunately.
posted by two lights above the sea at 10:46 AM on October 18, 2010


Duh, obviously.

*spine glows red*
posted by nomadicink at 11:15 AM on October 18, 2010


Are you on fire, or are you just a cylon who is really, really, REALLY happy to see me?
posted by two lights above the sea at 11:46 AM on October 18, 2010


I got a bad feeling about this.
posted by nomadicink at 12:41 PM on October 18, 2010


nomadicink: "That depends, are you people or one of the lizard creatures in human form trying to slowly rise to a position power and control the human race?"

Follow-up question: Are you trying to rise to that position via violent uprising or legitimate democratic representation?
posted by Plutor at 12:41 PM on October 18, 2010


Metafilter: Unfortunately not Dr. Who
posted by rhizome at 1:01 PM on October 18, 2010


Unfortunately not the Doctor. Who? FTFY ♥
posted by Cranberry at 1:28 PM on October 18, 2010


I started using italics for quotation (most of the time, and on MetaFilter only) because MetaFilter used to render the straightforward usage of <blockquote> poorly—i.e., with extra blank lines. That seems to have been fixed, so I would encourage everyone to drop italics and use <blockquote>.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 8:04 PM on October 18, 2010


1142:9622 :: Moses:Jesus.
posted by kaibutsu at 9:42 PM on October 18, 2010


Haha! nomadicink, my intent was not to molest you via Metalk. So sorry! Bad feelings go away now!
posted by two lights above the sea at 8:02 AM on October 19, 2010


1) Italicised copy is easier to spot than non-italicised copy inside quotation marks.

2) Italics are easier to code than blockquotes.

Thus, Metafilterers, always eager to be helpful but basically lazy, went with italics and made it the convention.
posted by notyou at 4:04 PM on October 19, 2010


Haha! nomadicink, my intent was not to molest you via Metalk.

Yeah, I got your Mefimail and no, I'm not into Captain Crunch.
posted by nomadicink at 4:47 PM on October 19, 2010


2) Italics are easier to code than blockquotes.

Eh?
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:52 PM on October 19, 2010


Eh?

If I knew how to code code so that it displayed rather than did, I'd have done that instead of this:

Italics require an arrow left, an "i", and an arrow right. Three little characters to get you started, followed by four to close.

Blockquotes require an arrow left, a "blockquote" and an arrow right. Eleven characters. Plus 12 to close.

Seven is less than 23, which makes italics easier than blockquotes.
posted by notyou at 7:46 PM on October 19, 2010


And that's not even counting the backspaces and restrokes after I type "blockqoute" for the umpteenhundredth fucking time.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:39 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


For what it's worth, I pretty much always combine italics and blockquoting when I am quoting someone else's text.

Except when I don't. Damn.
posted by cavalier at 9:00 AM on October 20, 2010


klangklangston wrote: "I'm trying to remember what the IRC code was that would have the client denote that the user was performing an action. Was it just the > ?"

IRC has had CTCP ACTION since essentially forever, which displays in most clients as either:

* wierdo is a tomata! *squish* *squish* or
* wierdo is a tomata! *squish* *squish*

In ircII and derivatives and even mIRC, you just type /me is a tomata *squish* *squish*

OK, so in reality, I never typed all that out, because I used an ircII script that would do that if you just typed /tomata, but still. And to be more pedantic, if you were using ircII from a terminal that supported color but not underline, underlined text would be rendered as dark cyan. (this was long before the bastardized mIRC color scheme). To make something bold, you'd surround it with Control-B or to underline, Control-U.

Speaking of mefiquote, which I love dearly, it doesn't handle q tags very well. They somehow get screwed up and I just get a regular " (&quot;) quotation mark. I changed the default style because I don't like linking the entire username for whatever reason. I saw someone link from the colon and liked it. It's like how I used to get irritated with people who used bold on IRC because the bright white hurt my eyes. I always used ircII scripts to get rid of bright colors on the client. Yes, I was one of those people who enjoyed the black background and used IRC from what amounted to a dimly lit cave.
posted by wierdo at 10:11 AM on October 20, 2010


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