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Letters in dialogue

Switch Blayde

I couldn't find the thread where we discussed having letters in dialogue so I had to create a new one. I think Crumbly's solution was something like "A-B-C-D".

It just so happens it came up in something I'm writing. Right or wrong, this is my dialogue:

"It's Lowery Merkins. The id should be first initial, last name. L, M, E, R, K, I, N, S."


Notice how "id" is written. And when the character spelled the letters. Right or wrong, this is what seems to make the most sense for me.

And I also wrote in dialogue:

"At the FBI he worked on money laundering cases."


I wrote "FBI" as the three letters.

Perv Otaku

But what about the ego and the super-ego, then?

Oh wait, you meant the one that's short for identification. Yeah, dictionary says capitalize that.
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/id

Acronyms I'd have to look up. Most people use "FBI" instead of "F.B.I." anyway, but I'm not sure if there's a genuine rule there. Maybe leave the periods out if it's pronounced as a whole word ("NASA") and leave them in if you say the letters individually. Not sure. If it's in the dictionary then follow that example.

I'm working on a thing with a cheerleader character. So I've got a few of these:
"Gimmie a V! I! C! T! O! R! Y! What's that spell? Victory!"
Like you, I used capital letters and commas a couple times when it wasn't being done shouty gametime-style.

Ernest Bywater

There are initials, official acronyms, common use acronyms, and nicknames.

The initials of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is F.B.I. However, with acronyms you drop the full stops to turn the initials into an acronym, and sometimes you add a letter to help make it an easy to say acronym. Thus the acronym for the Federal Bureau of Investigation is FBI with no full stops, and it's nickname is Feebie. A well known example of an acronym with and extra letter is CHiP for the California Highway Patrol. The acronym for Justice of the Peace is JP, and while the official plural is Justices of the Peace and written as JsP the common use plural acronym is JPs.

ID is an acronym for Identification Document, while id is for a part of the brain. Nost people think ID comes from IDentity, but it is the acronym of the two words because an ID is the documentation to show who you are.

Switch Blayde

@Perv Otaku

Yeah, dictionary says capitalize that.


I never thought to capitalize it so I Googled "login id" and in all the results "id" was "ID". Thanks for catching that.

Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@Perv Otaku


Oh wait, you meant the one that's short for identification. Yeah, dictionary says capitalize that.

Acronyms I'd have to look up. Most people use "FBI" instead of "F.B.I." anyway, but I'm not sure if there's a genuine rule there.


As Ernest says, ID is typically capitalized as a common abbreviation. Abbreviations are typically spelled out (with periods), but in the case of the FBI, CIA and CSI, they've fallen into common parlance, so they've become words in themselves. In those cases, you don't include the periods in the name.

Switch, I like spelling the letters out with dashes, because it gives you greater flexibility. Typically, when people spell things, they'll pause between syllables, so they'd say: "The ID should specify the first initial and last name, reading: L, period M-E-R, K-I-N-S."

The information is the same, but one format allows it to come across a little more naturally, but both are perfectly fine.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Ernest Bywater

The simplified way of looking at the difference between initials and an acronym is initials are letters with full stops between, while acronyms don't have any full stops. Acronyms are typically used in speech and fiction while initials are typically used in formal reports. Thus you get a report title like: Investigation of Forensic Services in the F.B.I while people will talk to each other about the FBI agents investigating the kidnapping. The report is initials while the kidnapping is an acronym.

Oh, expanding on early ID domes from Identity Document and is an acronym, but is now misused to refer to anything related to identifying a person, even in electronic systems where the document part isn't relevant - just common usage.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


I like spelling the letters out with dashes, because it gives you greater flexibility.


Except the dash has a specific purpose in punctuation (to connect two words, as in "hard-on" or "make-up"). the en-dash is used for ranges. So that would leave the em-dash. A comma is a pause so in my head I heard a slight pause between each letter. I have no idea which way is right.

As to "FBI" I was referring to writing it in dialogue as "ef bee eye" (or is I "ay"?). They say to write it the way it sounds in dialogue. That doesn't always apply.

Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

So that would leave the em-dash. A comma is a pause so in my head I heard a slight pause between each letter. I have no idea which way is right.


Why does one have to be right and one wrong? As long as your readers understand it, that should be enough.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Dominions Son

Why does one have to be right and one wrong? As long as your readers understand it, that should be enough.


As I said, I have no idea what is "right" if there is a right.

How do you know all your readers understand what you meant? That's the main reason for following standard punctuation. You can make it up any way you want, but other than you, who will understand what you meant?

If you follow the rules and someone doesn't know those rules, that's their problem.

Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

How do you know all your readers understand what you meant?


You can't, but if enough readers don't understand hopefully you would get some feedback on it.

That's the main reason for following standard punctuation.


1. You can't follow standard punctuation in a situation not covered by standard punctuation.
2. For many things there are multiple "standards"

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

You can make it up any way you want, but other than you, who will understand what you meant?


Most people.

I've seen reports on tests where they give a bunch of people a paragraph of text with most words misspelled, no punctuation, verb-noun reversals, missing words.

Around 80% of the test subjects can correctly read the paragraph and determine the correct meaning despite the "errors".

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

As to "FBI" I was referring to writing it in dialogue as "ef bee eye" (or is I "ay"?). They say to write it the way it sounds in dialogue. That doesn't always apply.

If the character says "FBI", then that's what you write. Which would you prefer to read? "Call the FBI!" or "Call the Eff Bee Eye!" I wouldn't include the second if you offered me an endorsement deal.

Besides, a dash is reserved for combination/linked words while the em-dash is intended to link non-directly related sentence fragments. Neither applies to letters. You might be able to get away with it, but neither is considered proper usage.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

You can't, but if enough readers don't understand hopefully you would get some feedback on it.

Except, you only get 1 response for every 100 upset readers, and that's only on SOL. For published works, the rates are even lower, and you often NEVER hear diddly from readers!

Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

Around 80% of the test subjects can correctly read the paragraph and determine the correct meaning despite the "errors".

Alas, that might be so, but it doesn't mean they'll put that much work into it, and won't toss the book once they do. Expecting them to continue reading something requiring that much work (even for simple typos), is inviting widespread rejection.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Capt Zapp

@Switch Blayde

How do you know all your readers understand what you meant?


Considering what passes for 'writing' in text messages, tweets, and general postings on-line, I can understand why they might not understand what has been in use for decades.

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

Alas, that might be so, but it doesn't mean they'll put that much work into it, and won't toss the book once they do.


For what Switch was specifically talking about, spoken letters, whether you use dashes, commas, or even just spaces,

I don't think more than 1 in 10,000 readers would have a problem understanding it.

None of the formatting/punctuation possibilities would be the least bit confusing.

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer


Besides, a dash is reserved for combination/linked words while the em-dash is intended to link non-directly related sentence fragments. Neither applies to letters.


I asked my published author contacts. You are right, it's dashes.

Crumbly Writer

I checked how I handled it in my first story (a long, long time ago):

"No, no, it's Shaniqua, spelled with a 'Q'. 'S', 'h', 'a',…." she went on as she spelled out her name. Finally my sister got it.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

"No, no, it's Shaniqua, spelled with a 'Q'. 'S', 'h', 'a',…." she went on as she spelled out her name. Finally my sister got it.


That's similar to what I wanted to use (minus the single quotes). I still think it looks better with commas, but I strive for my writing to look like traditionally published books so I'll go with the dashes.

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