Between the bolded B and the underlined U on your computer Word tool bar is the italicized I, the paperback writer’s best friend. At least that was so in the 16th century when Venetian printer, publisher and businessman Aldus Manutius developed a typography ideally suited to fit a large amount of text into a small amount of space and so the paperback book was born. Pointed and clicked on for centuries by writers, students and graphic designers, the italics cypher is a letter with a secret intent, much abused and overused with little regard for its original use and meaning. Designed by Manutius in 1551 to mimic the cursive writing of Greek and Latin manuscripts favored by humanist scholars of the High Renaissance, it was considered a scholarly and noble font that also easily adapted to the paperback book.
Today it has as many uses and misuses as handicapped parking spaces or the comma. And although there is a desire to eliminate cursive writing in our schools, the judicious and proper use of italics in writing honors a tradition of italic typography that if lost would surely diminish our written language. It would be a little like drinking imitation coffee. The intent is there but the depth of flavor is missing. Without the emphasis, contrast and clarification of italics, the writer’s words might prove tasteless.
*The Venetian house of Aldus Manutius is located in the sestiere of Santa Croce on Rio Terra Secondo. Slightly off the beaten path Santa Croce is relatively close to the Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco by vaporetti (water bus). Savor many of the areas fine restaurants and see interesting museums and the baroque palazzo Ca’Pesaro