Let's suppose there exists a standard that documents fruits. This standard has already accepted apple and peach. Banana has just been accepted as a standard. When I say:

The proposal of banana has just been accepted as a standard.

How should banana be written? In quotes ("banana") or in italic (banana)? Because it is not the fruit banana that entered the standard, but the word.

  • I'm fairly confused here. What sort of standard are we talking about. If it's something like an ISO standard, then it's not the name of the spec that enters but the spec itself. But in this case, you're making it sound like a list of words rather than a list of concepts or specifications. Would this be more analogous to OED adding banana to the dictionary? – Dusty Feb 22 '11 at 17:19
  • Yes, I'm talking about something like an ISO standard. – John Assymptoth Feb 22 '11 at 19:03
  • The mention-use distinction becomes even more muddy when the mention is in quotes. "Call me 'Trinity.'" or "Call me 'Trinity'." or "Call me Trinity." – user82580 Jun 30 '14 at 11:56

Both quotation marks and italics are used to make a use–mention distinction; italics are probably more used in specific contexts, for example when introducing or defining terms, especially technical terms or those used in an unusual or different way.

Regarding style, there are those who prefer to use quotation marks with multi-word phrases, and italics with single words.

[Reference: Wikipedia.]

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  • I'm not aware of any such distinction, myself. Generally speaking, quotes are adequate even for single word mentions. Italics should be reserved for specific kinds of titles and names (e.g. ship names). "Banana" in this context is not a book title, it's merely an item on a list of things within a proposed standard, so really, quotes are more than adequate. – Michael Scott Shappe Feb 22 '11 at 19:03
  • Can you give me a reference for this rule? – John Assymptoth Feb 22 '11 at 19:05
  • @John Assymptoth: Which rule? – kiamlaluno Feb 22 '11 at 19:29
  • The multi-word should be in quotes and single word in italics. Either way, thanks for the answer. +1 – John Assymptoth Feb 22 '11 at 19:32
  • @John Assymptoth: I just reported a preference, which means somebody could prefer to use italics for single words, and somebody could prefer to always use quotation marks. I expanded the answer to make it clear why italics should better suit the case you are asking for. – kiamlaluno Feb 22 '11 at 19:42

If the standard is "A list of all words that refer to fruits" and you have just accepted the word "banana" into the standard, I would say that the word should be in quotes; because, as you say, we are accepting the word itself, not the object that it represents, and enclosing a word in quotes is the accepted method of making the "use/mention" distinction.

On the other hand, if the standard is "a list of all fruits" and you have just accepted that a banana is indeed a fruit, then italicizing the word banana would be preferable.

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