Wednesday, July 23, 2008

In defense of underlining

A reader writes:
Regarding the emphasis of words as a matter of document design, what’s so bad about underlining? Surely the fact that underlining happened to be possible with a typewriter does not by itself warrant exile to realm of “witnesseth” and all caps. In my experience, underlining stands out more than boldface and far more than italicizing--especially when we’re talking about shorter phrases (I don’t think I’d use it for an entire section). Perhaps I am unique or in the minority on this. Any thoughts on this weighty issue?

First, that it was available on a typewriter is not the problem. The problem is that it was used on a typewriter to simulate italics, which is what professional printers used. It was a second-best make-do.

Second, it does add clutter to the text--another element for the eye to deal with--and it partly obscures any descending letter, like this: g, j, p, q, y.

Still, the reader has a point: it isn't so bad, and there are far worse writing faults.

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