The Chicago Manual of Style:

When a word or term is not used functionally but is referred to as the word or term itself, it is either italicized or enclosed in quotation marks. Proper nouns used as words, on the other hand, are usually set in roman.

  • The term critical mass is more often used metaphorically than literally.
  • What is meant by neurobotics?
  • The i in the name iPod is supposed to invoke the Internet.

Although italics are the traditional choice, quotation marks may be more appropriate in certain contexts. (And in some electronic environments, quotation marks may be more portable or otherwise practical than italics.) In the first example below, italics set off the foreign term, and quotation marks are used for the English. In the second example, quotation marks help to convey the idea of speech.

  • The Spanish verbs ser and estar are both rendered by "to be."
  • Many people say "I" even when "me" would be more correct.

Even though this topic is a matter of style/convention (it seems that even The CMS is reluctant to give a definite opinion), is there a source for a comprehensive discussion as to why one should prefer one to another?

  • These are mere conventions. There is no compelling reason to prefer one convention over another in this or any other matter, since the entire point of convention is to set a standard where no external grounds for selection exist. In other words, it does not matter what we agree on, only that we agree. And in some cases, we agree that either of two ways works because both are extant in the field and there is no compelling reason to choose between them.
    – user16226
    Dec 9, 2017 at 18:13
  • @Mark Thank you for your comment. Just because the topic is mostly a matter convention, it doesn't automatically follow that "there is no compelling reason ..."
    – blackened
    Dec 9, 2017 at 18:16
  • Where there is a compelling reason, we choose by necessity rather than convention. We create conventions where there is no compelling need other than consistency. Necessity would compell us in the same direction without a convention. We invoke convention to achieve consistency where no one solution is imposed by necessity.
    – user16226
    Dec 9, 2017 at 18:40
  • I doubt there IS any comprehensive discussion. When more than one style can be used, the reasons to choose one over another is to use what a particular audience expects, and/or for clarity within the context of where the sentence appears. Those can overlap, of course, things are more clear to audiences when stated in the language, grammar or style they have come to expect. Another reason to use something besides italics is if italics are reserved for something else, like in fiction, emphasis or unvoiced thoughts. Or double quotation marks are reserved for speech, as they are in fiction.
    – Amadeus
    Dec 9, 2017 at 18:48
  • We should also note that in many cases audiences have seen both conventions and are equally familiar with both of them. A convention does not have to be singular to be clear, it only has to be familiar. Where there are two conventions, both well known, it really is a flip a coin situation. When it comes to language, much of it is settled by long usage, not logic or imperative, and long usage permits a myriad of arbitrary and optional features to exist.
    – user16226
    Dec 9, 2017 at 19:17

1 Answer 1


Is there a source for determining the convention?

Yes. It is the editor of the book you are trying to publish. Following TCMOS is in itself a convention. Several items change from edition to edition. And some authors are just stubborn.

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