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I've seen people on the Internet stressing a certain word using "*":

I do not *like* it, I *love* it!

I think there is no such punctuation as "*". So I'm wondering if I can use some other way to achieve the same goal in traditional English. I've tried quotation marks but then it sounds like I'm posing ironic effect.

I do not "like" it, I "love" it!

That sentence leaves the impression that I'm loving it in a unusual way.

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ONE WORD! CAPS! YOU SHOULD USE CAPS FOR EVERYTHING, IT LETS PEOPLE KNOW YOU ARE SERIOUS! lol - but I am lying, dont use caps. –  Dan Hanly Mar 8 '11 at 15:05
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How could this question not be closed as “suggestive and argumentative”? –  F'x Mar 8 '11 at 15:06
    
Lynne Truss and WikiHow are against using quotation marks for emphasis. –  Paul D. Waite Mar 8 '11 at 15:59
    
Aside: unnecessaryquotes.com –  ShreevatsaR Mar 8 '11 at 18:40
    
>> loving it in a unusual way << not that there's anything wrong with that :) –  zetetic Mar 9 '11 at 3:59

5 Answers 5

up vote 21 down vote accepted

The classical punctuation to denote emphasis is the exclamation mark.

However, that applies to the whole sentence. It is sometimes possible to draw a word to the end of a sentence to emphasize it instead of the whole sentence:

I love kittens … not!

Or if the word in question is an interjection, put it between dashes:

The dessert – delicious! – had just 200 calories.

Another alternative I have sometimes seen is putting the exclamation mark into parentheses behind the word.

This is the only (!) way of using emphasis.

But in general, emphasis of single words is achieved via formatting, not punctuation.

Historically, this has been italics, or, since, italics are hard to emulate in handwriting, underlining in handwritten documents. With the advent of typewriters, the underlining convention was reused but on computer terminals, underlining no longer works because you cannot shift the carriage position back in a text document (which is how underlining was achieved on typewriters).

This is probably when people began to hint at emphasis by prefixing and affixing a word with underscores: _like this_.

In newsgroups, many people switched to slashes, /like this/. I have no idea where the asterisks come from though.

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"I have no idea where the asterisks come from though." Try putting asterisks around a word or phrase when adding a comment... –  oosterwal Mar 8 '11 at 16:07
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@oosterwal Asterisks as emphasis existed long before markdown (which is what formats the texts on this site). In fact, markdown uses them because they were already in use …. –  Konrad Rudolph Mar 8 '11 at 16:54
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The problem with underlining on computers isn't the inability to "shift the carriage position back", but the inability to overstrike. You can do that now with the Unicode "combining low line" character l̲i̲k̲e̲_t̲h̲i̲s̲, but it's much easier to type _like this_ than it is to fiddle with Character Map. –  Dan Apr 13 '11 at 0:35
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This article (as well as this one on the Markdown developer blog) suggests that asterisks as emphasis originates from comic strips and stage directions. –  Hannele Aug 14 '13 at 20:00

The asterisks are used commonly on the internet in situations where the writer has no control over how the text is typeset.

Traditionally, such emphasis is added by using an italic or bold face.

This is why "plaintext markup languages" such as markdown (which is used on the stack exchange sites) typically convert *text* into text (or sometimes text).

I'm not aware of a traditional means of adding emphasis purely with punctuation (I imagine that if there was such a way then people would never have started using asterisks for this), though it's often possible to re-phrase things to add emphasis linguistically.

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Traditionally, emphasis has always been achieved through italics, but only if you need emphasis on a particular word rather than the entire sentence. Most forums provide the possibility to provide italics, though lacking that, you need to surround the word with *. Despite the fact that it is not preferable, it's perhaps the only way to emphasize without italics or bold typing.

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I wouldn't say the only way. you can use the _ or basically any symbol that can be typed to emphasize a word. But most punctuation (and easily typed symbols) have clearly defined meanings whereas * and _ do not, and so the serve as unobtrusive emphasis indicators. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Mar 8 '11 at 13:35
    
They've sort of been handed this meaning though. If I wrote this word with asterisks, it'd be clearer that I mean to emphasize it than if I surrounded this word with underscores, at least in my humble opinion. –  Neil Mar 8 '11 at 14:27

What you are trying to do is mark speech patterns, particularly intonation patterns. Standard English orthography doesn't do this at all, and the various attempts I've seen on and off the Internet, from italicizing to marking out with special symbols, all make the writer look like a poseur more than conveying stress information.

Fortunately this only really arises in blogging and diary writing when you are trying to write in a colloquial speech-like manner. Most other occasions when emphasis matters involve direct speech, and for that purpose we pick adjectives carefully!

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How about using a single parenthetical? Example: Could Rosa have developed an understanding of 'indifference'?

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