“Style,” as I am using it in this post, refers to the standardization of word presentation. Some styles call for titles to be underlined; others call for them to be italicized. Some styles use what is termed “sentence case” (first word capitalized, all others lower case unless proper noun/adjective), others use “title case” (capitalize all words except articles and conjunctions, unless the title begins with one) for journal articles in a bibliography or a foot-/endnote. Readers come to depend on the style to give them clues about the nature of the work called out by title. I see italics, I assume the work is a book. I see quotation marks, I assume the work is a musical piece or perhaps a film. (My intent here is not to discuss preferring one style to another, as you will see shortly. It is to explain that style is needed for multiple reasons, of which one is contextual clues. Stick with me, please.)
My daughter is taking her English course online. One of her lessons last week dealt with analogies (presented in the common “A:B :: 1:2” format). Here is the one that threw her (and me), as it appeared on the screen.
Romeo and Juliet : drama
No punctuation of any kind. No identifying clues whatsoever. Before you say “But Karen, that’s obviously a title!” let me continue with the first possible answer provided.
Zeus : mythology
“Hm. Romeo and Juliet are characters in a drama, and Zeus is a character in mythology. Given the other options here, that one seems pretty good. One of these down here farther is a title and a genre, but that title’s not set off in any way, either . . . so the best answer seems to be the first one, because we can’t know which meaning–characters or title–is intended, since there’s no style applied to the words Romeo and Juliet.”
This harks back to my rant about poorly written worksheets. There’s no excuse in my book for not setting off the title “Romeo and Juliet” in some manner, whether as I just did or in italics. (Remember, I’m not advocating for any particular style. I’m advocating for style, period. What I learned in junior high and high school isn’t the same as what I used on the job in educational publishing or the game-publishing field. The kind of presentation is not important. The existence of a consistent-within-the-work style is.) Had that been done properly (whatever was deemed proper in this instance by the writer/publisher of the electronic course), this high-school sophomore wouldn’t have been left guessing. She could have chosen the right answer the first time, instead of being made to weigh options. If the point of the exercise is to learn to choose the best answer, weighing options is a good thing. If the point of the exercise is to choose the right answer, that answer should be easy to choose from the list (assuming one’s been paying attention to the lesson, of course).
Here endeth today’s rant.