Freewrite: NOT

I was thinking about the word “NOT” in the sense of it often being capitalized.  Nope, it is NOT an abbreviation.  Instead, it seems to be that this word is disproportionately full-capitalized.

I have noticed, especially on exams and quizzes, that the word “not” is often capitalized, probably for emphasis.  Why is this?  Is it because the word “not” can easily be missed in a sentence if it is bereft of emphasis?

And for that, there are many ways to emphasize a word in text when you can’t use something like tone of voice or diction vocally.  Underlining, bolding, italicizing, CAPITALIZING.  They all have the effect of attempting to ensure that people’s saccades will focus on the emphasized word for a little bit.

In math texts, however, italics are used for letters, as well as for “theorem environments” in which case the “emphasis” is actually regular letters (no italics)!  This suggests that what is more important for emphasis is something that makes the word(s) stand out.  Here are some of my opinions:

CAPITALIZATION: When used to emphasize a single word, that is fine by me, as people will often emphasize a certain word when speaking by saying it more loudly.  Most people tend to think of SHOUTING when a written sentence is in all caps, although sometimes it’s a result of an accidental CAPS LOCK.   I notice, however, that some people write any words in their math assignments in all capital letters.  Interesting.

Italicization.  As I mentioned before, this seems to be used in math papers more than other things that I have seen.  Sometimes, I see it on standardized tests (er… saw) when used to emphasize… the word not (ex. “Which of the following is not true?”) Although it does emphasize the word, I feel that it is the least eye-catching of the four methods that I mentioned.

Underlining. This can be used for emphasis, and I find that it is frequently used at the beginning of items involving lists.  For example, I could have, in this battery of short paragraphs describing the emphases, underlined the first word of each.  At least that is what I tend to do.  Your results may vary.

Bolding.  I feel that this is the same idea as capitalization, because I see bold as increasing your voice when speaking.  At the same time, I tend to use bold in my paper drafts to highlight stuff that I need further clarification, OR to mark for myself ideas about what I will do next.  The latter is especially true if I write my notes for what I will do tomorrow on my document rather than on paper.

“Quotation marks.”  I didn’t mention this one in the preliminary paragraphs, but I find, especially on the Internet, that some people use these to emphasize certain words.  This is a pet peeve of mine, because sometimes it seems that quotation marks, rather than marking quotes, tend to mark sarcasm, facetiousness, or similar things.  I admit that I am guilty of this, as I tend to throw air-quote-marks when speaking, depending on the conversation.


Well, the fifteen minutes are up.


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