Underscores for emphasis?

Have I missed a memo?

When did underscores before and after _emphasised words_ become something that was acceptable?

It’s dumb. It’s like underlining but, if possible, less visually appealing and more likely to make me write you off as a writer.

What happened to using vocabulary to express emphasis. Some people are so stupid.

Here’s my order of what’s acceptable when you’re trying to emphasise stuff:

1. An emphatic word.
2. An adverb or adjective.
3. Bolding.
4. All caps.
5. An exclamation mark (just because I hate them).
6. Underlining.
7. Underlining and bolding.
8. Underscores.

Anything after 3 is pushing the envelope.


I don’t think I’ve ever seen this when people have an easy way of doing formatting.

I reckon #3 from your list needs to move way, way, down.

David C says:

What about *stars* to emphasise? I think more visually appealing.

I think I’ve ruined all emphasis words. I overuse them, so they’ve lost their meaning. Which makes stars good.

Nathan says:

I’ve slightly updated, so I think by three you mean what is now four (all caps). I actually think it’s aesthetically more appealing, and more typographically achievable, than making changes to the page around a word.

So, I favour changes that are intuitive to changes that require you to provide additional interpretive guides (in the forms of underlines, underscores or punctuation).

And I think sometimes all caps just works. Especially if it’s a case where you would actually be shouting. But I agree, it’s messy, and should almost never be used. Anything past using the occasional adverb/adjective should almost never be used.

Anything that looks like it could be written in a teenage girl’s diary should never be used.

Nathan says:

I’m not a fan of stars. I liked when they were used in IRC to denote fictive (or actual) action like *running around the room with my shirt over my head yelling “GOAL,”* or *beating John over the head with a frozen fish.*

I don’t think it’s possible to exhaust emphatic words. I think you just need to choose better nouns and verbs. As a general rule.

So instead of writing “I hammered with force a huge nail into a large piece of wood!” you could say “I bashed a spike into a slab of oak.”

Bashed is more emphatic than “hammered with force” and spike is better than “huge nail.”

Emphasis should generally be a case of saying more with less. Maybe using a shorter sentence should be on my list.

David says:


Nathan Campbell says:

Unapologetically a snob.

Gary Ware says:

So, italics don’t even make the list?
Are the the text highlighting method which dares not speak its name?

Nathan Campbell says:

I don’t see italics so much as making emphatic statements, but as distinguishing the difference between the effected words and those around them.

I think they tend to be used to emphasise the bits you think are important from other people’s writing rather than from your own. Or to indicate a sort of tangentially related trail that a clause might explore. Or something.