When I Put Something In Italics, I Mean ItCommentary • Opinion • Economy • industry • ISSUE 36•29 • Aug 23, 2000 By Donald Thuler Donald Thuler I've been office manager at Johnson Railing Supply, central Missouri's largest wholesaler of rails, for more than seven years. And in that time, I've had the chance to hone my writing skills in countless company memos, bulletin-board announcements, and break-room signs. With all this writing experience, I have the ability to cut through excess verbiage and get my message across clearly and effectively. But, despite this expertise, I've found there are those who fail to respond appropriately to strongly worded directives. They fail to understand that when I put something in italics, I mean it.Take, for example, last week's memo regarding use of the company credit card, wherein I made it clear to employees that the card is to be used for pre-approved purchases only. Would you believe that on Monday I received a receipt from Janet Dahl for a pack of halogen light bulbs, for which a purchase request had not been filled out? What gives? Then there was the time someone was leaving leftovers in the break-room fridge for weeks at a time. After a while, the fridge started to stink. I was put in charge of handling the situation. And that's just what I did, posting a sign reading, "Items Remaining In The Fridge For More Than Seven Days Will Be Thrown Out." But, lo and behold, despite my no-nonsense deployment of italics, a carton of Egg Foo Yung showed up on the bottom shelf the very next day and stayed for nearly four weeks. For some reason, time and time again, people ignore the importance of words placed in italics. Last month, my lovely wife Carla and I threw a party for our 20th wedding anniversary. On the invitation, I clearly stated, "Your presence is our present." Yet we still received gifts from a number of our guests. Further, though the invitation clearly stated that dinner would start "at 8 p.m. promptly," several couples had the audacity to arrive at 8:15. Appetizers had already come and gone by the time they walked in the door. Some people may recklessly pepper their work with unnecessary italics. Not I. I understand that italicization is something to be used sparingly, only when you are really serious about stressing the importance of certain words. The same thing goes for the exclamation point. Like italics, this atom bomb of punctuation must be deployed judiciously, only when absolutely necessary. For example, its use is wholly appropriate when you wish to remind your fellow Johnson Railing Supply employees that the second-floor stairwell door is to remain closed at all times! But if, after posting such a reminder, the door continues to be held open with a ream of copier paper, it may be necessary to fortify the italics and exclamation point with capitals, underlines, and boldface: "Propping The Door Open IS A FIRE HAZARD!" In such extreme cases, one may also be forced to scold guilty parties with such parenthetical clauses as "(You know who you are!)" and "(If you have a problem with this, see Donald!)" Yet, all too often, despite my carefully considered stylistic choices, my message is lost on others–even when I painstakingly call attention to the important parts of a sentence with a long dash. In handwritten material, I sometimes employ the triple-underline and, should the need arise, write in red magic marker. Such techniques, however, are impossible to render in typed memos and letters, not to mention grossly inappropriate in formal correspondence. Perhaps I'll need to resort to swearing to get my points across. In the past, in dealing with my son, I've used the strong arm by leaving notes informing him that the "@#&*%! lawn" had better be mowed by 8 p.m. In the future, I may even have to add that if it is not, there will be hell to pay.