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I received a document where one collaborator italicized aka and another did not. Should aka be italicized?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

Aka doesn't need italicising. It can be written and will be understood both with and without periods, although I see it usually written without.

Style guides will differ on the periods. As a counter-example to the somewhat heavyweight CMOS, the Guardian recommend to use aka without periods. Unusually, the guide also shows it in capitals, but a quick look in the paper shows nine lowercase aka without periods and one uppercase AKA without periods. (Edit: I asked the style guide editors and they recommend AKA because it's pronounced as individual letters.)

So: italics are not needed, and follow your own style guide (if you have one), or pick a style and apply it consistently.

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This abbreviation, a.k.a., isn't derived from foreign words in the first place, so there was never a need to italicize it.

Moreover, the common abbreviations that were originally derived from foreign words, such as etc., i.e., and e.g., are considered a standard part of the English language, and most sources don't recommend italicizing those, either.

Regarding writing a.k.a. with periods, CMoS "recommends the following general guidelines in nontechnical settings" (when I would have expected to find these used in more technical or formal settings):

Use periods with abbreviations that end in a lowercase letter: p. (page), vol., e.g., i.e., etc., a.k.a., a.m., p.m., Ms., Dr., et al. (et is not an abbreviation; al. is). An exception may be made for the few academic degrees that end in a lowercase letter (e.g., DLitt, DMin); see 10.20 and rule 3.

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The abbreviation a.k.a., meaning “also known as”, need not be italicized, but it should have periods after each letter indicating it is an abbreviation.

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Would this be a case where I can use my newly-discovered word grammaticalisation? Anyway, even if aka isn't an example of that, I don't really think the periods are important outside of legal documentation. – FumbleFingers Dec 20 '11 at 0:08
@FumbleFingers Odd how grammaticalization looks shorter when spelled (spelt?) with an s. – Gnawme Dec 20 '11 at 0:12
@Gnawme: I think that too, but I've always assumed it's because as a Brit I'm expecting an "s" in such words, so I kinda "linger" over the unfamiliar "z". Perhaps you're a closet Anglophile, or a crypto-Brit! – FumbleFingers Dec 20 '11 at 0:19
@FumbleFingers It seems that too many years of watching F1 (and reading F1 publications) have left their mark. (Crypto-Brit is an interesting concept...) – Gnawme Dec 20 '11 at 0:40
Whether to use periods between initials is a matter of style. Do the same thing as you would do with USA or RSPCA. – slim Dec 20 '11 at 10:47

Italicization helps when periods are omitted: so you do not mistake it for a word, probably even a typo or neologism. Beyond that, ital. is not an issue of grammar in this case.

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I think it needs some kind of indication that it is an abbreviation. Even then not everyone will understand it, so in cases of doubt it's best to write it in full. (I associate it with the UK’s satirical magazine ‘Private Eye’).

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Don't use italics. Italics are for foreign words, but a.k.a. is English ("also known as").

However, I do recommend that you include periods after every letter as a guide to pronunciation.

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"Italics are for foreign words" - but also for emphasis and many other purposes, so this logic doesn't work. – slim Dec 22 '11 at 18:02
I was explaining why some initialisms are written in italics and others are not, because that is probably how the confusion arose. A full explanation of all the uses of italics would be off-topic. – Pitarou Dec 23 '11 at 11:33

You need some indication that it is an abbreviation rather than a word (as most answers agree). Italics usually indicate a foreign origin, so are probably inappropriate, but full stops after each letter would be fine, and capitals (AKA) would be even better. However, the abbreviation does have a flavour of police bulletins: spelling it out in full would be my preference.

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