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Oblique type and italic type are different font styles. Oblique type is always slanted to the right (at least according to Wikipedia). To the best of my knowledge, nowadays almost all italic types in widespread use—and suited for the typographical requirements of written English—are also slanted to the right.

One usually shortens ‘italic type’ to ‘italic’. Unless I have misunderstood something, the verb form of ‘italic’ is ‘italicize’ (Merriam Webster entry, Cambridge Dictionary entry).

Question
Is there a verb form of ‘oblique’?

Remark
According to the Merriam-Webster entry, ‘italicize’ may mean either of “print in italics”, “underscore with a single line” and “emphasize”. Cambridge Dictionary states only the single meaning “to print or write something in italics”. I find Cambridge Dictionary much more reasonable in this case. But in cases where one simply wants to say that a slanted font style indicates emphasis: if one meaning of ‘italicize’ is synonymous with ‘emphasize’, then—since conventionally oblique type may be used for emphasis—‘italicize’ may perhaps be used as a substitute for the possibly non-existing verb form of ‘oblique’?

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    Some fonts - mostly sans-serif fonts, like Avant Garde or Helvetica - do not have 'true italics'; their 'italic' is generally an oblique, and the oblique is used when a program (for example, Microsoft Word) calls for italic. The verb for applying the oblique font in such cases is ... italicize. Nov 29, 2023 at 12:10
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    As far as I am concerned, I've never come across a verb form of oblique, only the adjective. As an aside, I would go with the Cambridge Dictionary, I think the MW definition is too broad. I've never seen underline described as "italics" and it is only one of many ways of emphasising some text. Bold, underline, italics, different font, larger font, different colour and so on. Nov 29, 2023 at 12:33
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    I presume that what you’re asking about is a verb meaning to set in oblique type? Nov 29, 2023 at 12:48
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    Back in the day of single-font typewriters, underlining text was an ersatz for italics.
    – TimR
    Nov 29, 2023 at 13:37
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    And no-one's yet coined obliquify…?
    – gidds
    Nov 29, 2023 at 23:28

4 Answers 4

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There is a word: the verb form of the word 'oblique' is oblique. From the Oxford English Dictionary†:

1.b. 1986– transitive. Computing. To render (a font or character) oblique. (Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “oblique, v., sense 1.b”, July 2023. https://doi.org/10.1093/OED/9747046458)

The OED includes three attestations from the late twentieth century, including this quote from a 1992 MacWeek piece:

Many sans-serif fonts are simply |obliqued|, rather than having a separate face drawn for italics.

This is similar to the examples I find on the web, which mainly seem to be in technical discussions, such as the accepted answer to a question on Stack Overflow (bolding added, ellipses in the original):

Some type foundries have arbitrarily created obliques that aren't necessarily approved by the designers themselves... some fonts were meant not to be italicized or obliqued... but people did anyway.

You can find examples of this usage for yourself by searching for "obliqued" or "obliquing"—add "font" if you want this specific usage, otherwise you'll mostly get medical results. Be sure to include the quotation marks and decline any offer to search for just "oblique" instead.

I know that some folks may object to this relatively new usage, but note that this is not just an example of English's (perfectly cromulent) habit of verbing adjectives and nouns (like how we now use Google to google). Rather, oblique has been a verb in other contexts for several hundred years, about as long as it has been an adjective and noun. English seems to have borrowed the word a few different ways/times from Latin and French, which both have verb as well as adjective forms; the earliest English examples of verb, adjective, and noun each date from the 1400s.


† Unfortunately the OED is paywalled, but check with your institutional or public library if you have one, as many have subscriptions for patrons.

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A typographer might talk about slanting a typeface. Mathematically minded typographers might talk about skewing a typeface.

For everybody else would say "italicize". In practice, oblique typefaces are not used in combination with an italic variant. A serif typeface will have an italic variant. A sans (especially a grotesque) will have an oblique. The function of the oblique is exactly the same as the italic, it allows the typographer to emphasise some text without changing the colour (ie the darkness) of the text. For anybody who isn't a typographer the oblique form of a grotesque sans is the italic.

So unless you need to make the distinction, just say "italicize".

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  • Slanting was the immediate word that I would use, too (though it is also used as an umbrella term covering both italics and obliques) – but I wouldn’t use italicise to refer to obliquing text. Many sans (even grotesques) do have italics, and quite a few serifs don’t, so it’s not true to say that a serif will have an italic variant and a sans will have an oblique. Nov 30, 2023 at 14:14
  • It would be very rare for a typesetter to use both the oblique variant and the italic in the same document. The difference is too subtle and most muggles won't notice unless it is pointed out.
    – James K
    Nov 30, 2023 at 19:42
  • It would be very unusual to use an oblique and an italic of the same font, yes. But then it’s rather uncommon for a font to have both an oblique and an italic to begin with. It wouldn’t be so unusual to use an oblique of one font and an italic of another in the same text, though. Nov 30, 2023 at 22:07
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Although it's always hard to prove a negative, I'm going to say no, there's no such verb. I just learned something from your question; I wasn't aware of oblique typeface as distinguished from italic. The difference apparently is that oblique type doesn't use a different set of glyphs (e.g., for some italic typefaces, the "f" descends, etc.), it simply takes the standard glyphs and slants them. I dare say there are many fonts for which the "italic" set is simply this.

If I had to speculate why there's no such verb, it might be because "italicizing" is the concern of a copy editor, someone making the decision to apply a style to a word or passage. For a true copy editor (not graphic designer) this is usually for textual reasons (emphasis, stylistic convention like naming the titles of books), not because it looks pretty. Meanwhile, if oblique type is chosen for a moment that would not normally be italicized, it usually is for its appearance. For instance, in the Mission Impossible posters, a sans-serif font is given a slant that was popular in futuristic or thriller contexts starting in the mid 20th century:

enter image description here

A copy editor gives orders to "italicize"; in the days of manual printing, an actual typesetter carried them out. But (I'm speculating) in those earlier days, that typesetter was left to their own devices on matters of layout and appearance, so if they wanted to select a certain character set they did so, and thus have a noun to refer to the set, but not a verb as if some procedure has been applied to an abstracted text.

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No, there is not an exact verb form of 'oblique' in the sense of putting text into an oblique font. But don't worry - even if there was one, you wouldn't use it much. Although italic fonts and oblique fonts are different (oblique characters follow the structure of the upright styles, while italics have a different structure, cursive, or serif fonts), most people would not know the difference and would likely call them all 'italic' anyway. Even if you do know the difference, obliques are less common than italics as they can only occur in fonts which are sans serif.

The reason why the verb italicise exists may lie in its etymology. 'Italic' literally means "Italian" or "Italian style". When something is in a style associated with a country we commonly coin a verb - for example, to Anglicise a name means to adapt it to English language norms; to Romanise means to make something more similar to or typical of ancient Roman styles, beliefs, customs. By contrast, 'oblique' means slanting or sloping, so is already functioning as these -ing adjectives, based on verbs, would. If you wanted to a verb to mean make something oblique there are plenty - slant, slope, skew etc.

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