From the Grammarist website:

In a manner of speaking is an idiom that means the same as ‘in other words’ or ‘so to speak’.

They've bolded the phrase which is the subject of discussion, but have quoted the two other phrases used for explanation. This seems inconsistent to me.

Are there rules or best practices regarding the use of quotes (or other punctuation?) to refer to phrases in this way? Would "in a manner of speaking" be better quoted, or marked up some other way, in their explanation?

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    Punctuation is never consistent. There are two kinds of quotes here -- one is a real quotation, and the other consists of its glosses. That requires two levels of quotation. On ELU, I tend to use italics for actual cited examples, and 'single quotes' for the glosses, thus: in a manner of speaking 'in other words; so to speak'. You can of course follow your own rules for punctuation; everyone does, after all. Commented May 18, 2015 at 16:26
  • I think they've made good choices about fonts on that web page. Three structurally similar idioms are all presented in bold type so they're easy to take in at a glance. Where each phrase (or part thereof) is repeated in the full text, they consistently use italics, and they place all synonyms/definitions in 'single quotes',.It all seems pretty readable to me. Commented May 18, 2015 at 16:35
  • @John Lawler: So, do you consider bolding and italicisation varieties of "punctuation"? I can see that in this context they serve a similar purpose, but I was taught that bold/italic/underline are font treatments. Are they both? Commented May 19, 2015 at 7:26
  • @Brian: No. Punctuation is not the same thing as typography. You need a machine to do typography, but you can do punctuation by hand. Different technologies; we have more options now, but still not as many aa we might need. For instance, small caps are not available in the ELU environment, and including an asterisk in italicized comment is weird; we have only a subset of HTML available here. So typography isn't close to settling down into a standard set of options, not to speak of a standard set of uses for them. Commented May 19, 2015 at 16:26
  • @John Lawler: Agreed. But are there recommendations or conventions on how to use typography in this site (ELU)? I don't think I've been consistent. And I don't know if it 's possible to do bold italics. Commented May 20, 2015 at 5:38

2 Answers 2


Among the key formatting questions that face anyone putting together a collection of discussions of separate words or phrases are the issues of how to handle the entry name itself at first occurrence, the equivalent meaning of the word or phrase, subsequent occurrences of the entry name, and related terms that have their own separate entries elsewhere in the work.

It seems to me that The Grammarist does a nice job of dealing with these various formatting questions. For purposes of reviewing the site's decisions, I reproduce the head and first two paragraphs of its entry for "in a manner of speaking" here:

In a manner of speaking

In a manner of speaking is an idiom that means the same as ‘in other words’ or ‘so to speak’. It is used usually after a statement to clarify a subtext or alternative meaning to the previous statement. Many people confuse this phrase by saying in a matter of speaking. This phrase builds off of one of manner‘s definitions as a type or kind of something (e.g., manner of men, manner of style). So one can think of manner of speaking as a way of saying something.

The related idiom is as a matter of fact. This phrase means ‘actually’ or ‘contrary to what has been said’. Typically it is used when one wants to correct misinformation or to give further information on a particular point.

The person who made the style decisions for this page of The Grammarist chose to bold the page head, the first occurrence of the entry name in the body of the discussion, and the first occurrence of other terms that have separate entries on other pages of the Website (in this excerpt, "as a matter of fact"). The person also decided to put the meaning equivalents of the entry name (here, ‘in other words’ and ‘so to speak’) in single quotation marks, as is commonly done in British English books (U.S. English books tend to use double quotation marks for this purpose). And finally, the person at The Grammarist chose to italicize the entry name on subsequent occurrences in the body copy, and to italicize other words when they require special emphasis (as with matter here) or are being used to refer to a word rather than to the thing that the word normally represents (as with manner's).

All of this is very neatly done. In fact, the only formatting mistake I see in the excerpted content is the open single quotation mark that appears in place of a hyphen in the possessive word manner's—and that most likely occurred because the author marked manner for italic and then followed with an apostrophe that the online word processor read incorrectly as a quotation mark owing to its following an HTML code character for italics.

A fairly recent book that adopts somewhat similar formatting conventions is John Ayto, The Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms, third edition (2009). Here is a sample entry from that book:


a knight in shining armour an idealized heroic person, especially a man who comes to the rescue of a woman in distress or in a difficult situation.

This expression, a variant of which is a knight on a white charger, is often used ironically of someone who presents himself in this guise but is in fact inadequate to the role. Compare with a white knight (at WHITE).

Ayto lists the first occurrence of the entry name in bold, although it appears beneath a more general category name that includes multiple entries. Ayto lists variant wordings in italics but related terms that have their own separate entries elsewhere in the book in bold. Unlike The Grammarist, Ayto does not put the definition of the phrase under discussion in quotation marks, but this may reflect Ayto's decision to provide a full definition of the phrase rather than just a phrase equivalent.

Both reference works handle their formatting tasks clearly and consistently, which should satisfy most readers.


No. It may be quoted, italicized, emboldened, underlined, set off with inverted commas or any other method used that the author chooses if the author feels it enhances communication of an idea to the reader. People who are familiar with the idiom in a manner of speaking will not need for it to be set apart in order to understand the sentence. The author is writing to explain the idiom to people who are not familiar with it. While it is optional, it is good practice to consider your audience.

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