I had in toto changed to "in total" in a question title with a comment that a spelling error was corrected, even though in toto appeared again in the restatement of the question in the body.

How many politically appointed positions are there at NASA in total?

Latin terms like in toto, in situ, in vivo, in vitro, in vacuo, a priori and ad hoc are often used in English, and we usually italicize them to indicate that they originate from another language.

One strategy to deal with titles would be to avoid the use of commonly used Latin phrases, but in Biology, Math, and Physics SE for example that's hard to do (random examples; I've highlighted the Latin bits):

Should we leave the terms of Latin origin in plaintext in titles, or is there some way to indicate they are Latin to help those who do not recognize them as such?

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    That’s just a bad edit that should’ve been rejected (if it was a suggestion) or rolled back. Such edits do happen occasionally, not only for Latin terms, but also for English words, which get “corrected” by editors who don’t seem to be native speakers. – Sebastian Simon Feb 2 at 1:49
  • @SebastianSimon edit was by a native English speaking moderator of the site, so I didn't roll back. They are accustomed to catching usually genuine spelling errors in my titles. – uhoh Feb 2 at 1:52
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    I was just saying that edits falsely correcting English words do happen and they are most likely done by non-native English speakers. I wasn’t referring to this edit in particular or the editor who made it. This particular edit isn’t editing an English word, but the situation is just similar to editing something that is in English. The point is that correctly spelled English words don’t need italics, but they’re still falsely corrected sometimes, so the real problem doesn’t seem to be about formatting in titles. – Sebastian Simon Feb 2 at 1:58

One strategy to deal with titles would be to avoid the use of commonly used latin phrases

The phrases themselves are common in scholarly and scientific language. Many of their individual words or derivations are lexicalized in several languages. In some cases they express concepts that don't have a better or clearer equivalent/translation. Some of the phrases are also immediately intelligible to a significant number of readers, by comparison with figures of speech and colloquialisms that to non-native English speakers may seem unintelligible.

I think the hypothetical strategy of avoiding these expressions would be going against long standing practices.

Should we leave the terms of latin origin in plaintext in titles

This would be an interesting feature request (there's probably one around already). There is some sense to allowing italics in titles, but I can't imagine a reason for allowing bold. The intermediate solution of not allowing any highlighting makes some sense in terms of overall consistency.


"Is it acceptable to mix Latin with English?"

"Is it good style to use Latin phrases in English scientific literature?"

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    "lexicalized" is not a word; "lexical" just means "relating to words" -- what did you mean by "lexicalized in several languages"? – TylerH Feb 2 at 18:52
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    @TylerH are you sure? I just checked and a couple of English dictionaries have the verb. – bad_coder Feb 2 at 21:00
  • It seems I was looking at (or unconsciously typed in) a different conjugation. However, as my comment above does show, it's not a particularly well-known word and I'd recommend (funnily enough, for the same reason OP is better off using "in total" vs "in toto") rephrasing that so it's easier to parse for readers :-) – TylerH Feb 2 at 22:50

The "Markdown in Titles?" question supports no italics in titles (perhaps that should be revisited), so that's what we are stuck with for formatting; but editing must be an improvement, and not damage the post, so rollback incorrect edits.

Variations on an answer (in the wild, not here; but they were asked at Stack Exchange):

  1. "Broken tooltip for question link with non-Latin symbols in comments" - The title is what the title is, never break it.

  2. "Does Bollywood title their movies using the Latin alphabet or the Devanagari alphabet?" - Translate the title, alienate your viewers, for your own convenience.

  3. "What does “Et In Arcadia, Ego” refer to?" - If you don't know, move along; nothing for you here.

As the author you are the ultimate decider, be it question or answer, as long as you are not wrong there is nothing to be corrected; the pedantic should enjoy their own medicine and support being corrected.

For a moderator's error roll once, then bring it up on the site's meta; for a user roll twice, which flags the moderators.

As a practical aside, attempting to incorporate the term in the first sentence (without repeating the title) emphasizes the correctness of the terminology; and makes erroneous changes twice as evident.

From a technical standpoint the title of the question is an URL, and URLs have no provision for italics. If a non-latin character set is to be used in URLs then Internationalized Domain Names must be supported; though that wouldn't help support italics.

To support accessibility a Clean URL is generally preferred. Encoding of non-latin Unicode characters is done using Punycode, and encoding of reserved characters is generally done using percent encoding. While it's technically possible to support many things, even newlines in an URL we need to adhere to the principles of accessibility, search engine optimization, and clean URLs.

It would be easier (much better) to have a local copy of the title that is presented when the webpage is loaded, that would make the MathJax that we have in URLs prettier. Take the example in your question "Ad hoc proof of Minkowski's bound for ℚ(√−19)", the title is converted to ad-hoc-proof-of-minkowskis-bound-for-mathbbq-sqrt-19; if you know to search for mathbbq's you're in luck, otherwise you'll have to rely on the other search terms to land you at that page.

Munging our URLs doesn't seem like a good idea, but having to change the code and database to support local titles for the sake of adding italics is an expensive proposition; in terms of developer time, manually editing some fixups, and expanding the database for the additional string.

This magnitude of change is something that should have been designed in from the start, assuming it would be desired, to allow nice outward facing URLs (easier to translate, politer, better keywords); adding it in hindsight would be a challenge, not particularly difficult but perhaps one that Stack Exchange won't be considering.

  • @SebastianSimon edit was by a native English speaking moderator of the site, so I didn't roll back. They are accustomed to catching usually genuine spelling errors in my titles. – uhoh Feb 2 at 1:53
  • Thanks! Here I've asked about the formatting of titles, not a "solution" to benevolent but suboptimal edit by our beloved moderator. :-) If I had a way to italicize the term the way we should be able to, it would have been clearer and the edit would not have happened. – uhoh Feb 2 at 2:03
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    My last paragraph offers a solution, while not perfect it ought to cause the editor to consider if it is they who is making the error and not the writer. Voting or Bounty on the linked question is what will bring italics to titles. – Rob Feb 2 at 2:07
  • okay thanks, my question is forward-looking only, basically how to improve how SE works. – uhoh Feb 2 at 2:44
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    @uhoh The costly solution is to bounty this question (and write a multi-line (double spaced) message asking for italics only); with enough upvotes ask for the request to be reconsidered. Here on MSE we often write odd titles, sometimes it's humorous and other times to show seriousness; for the Burniate Request we twist the title to fit the tag which may lead to some odd wording but if you get it then it makes sense. – Rob Feb 2 at 2:56
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    I'm partial to odd titles myself but that one's orbit in the main site decayed quickly. Next time I'm in meta space I may try to up my tag moxie. – uhoh Feb 2 at 4:26

Having no markdown in titles makes things more simple, and I’d tend towards preserving simplicity here. Formatting is a distraction here, your case is more about using terms that some people are unfamiliar with.

If you don’t know the term, italics might not help much. There are enough cases of users randomly formatting words inside their posts that someone unfamiliar with a term might still consider this a typo even with italics. So I don’t think adding formatting is a true solution to the issue, and would provide only negligible benefits.

Question titles should use language appropriate for the topic of the site. Many of the latin terms you mentioned are useful because they describe very specific concepts succinctly, they have no replacements that are equally specific and still reasonably short. Using these terms is useful, and that’s why they are still popular in certain fields.

Your example is a bit different, I don’t see any actual advantage for the latin term here. It is neither more specific nor much shorter than the plain english replacement. I have to also admit that I was unfamiliar with its use until now, I could of course guess what it means but I can’t remember having seen it before. This is quite different from all other terms you mention in your post, I would not consider these cases equal.

In short, I don’t see much potential for confusion here outside this particular term that isn’t all that useful to begin with. So I don’t think anything needs to change.

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    You have found me out! Because of my massive inferiority complex I added this latin term in the title in order to appear smarter. It serves no useful purpose and "in total" is clearer. In all the other cases I've cited plaintext works just fine and there's little chance they would be confused with something else just because they are not in italics. Simplicity wins; I think this is going to be the correct answer. – uhoh Feb 2 at 21:00
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    @uhoh don't be so hard on yourself, Latin is really fun. A lot of us grew up hearing languages that derive from Latin and reading it. The trick in your example is using the expression if it's commonly used by others for the same thing. (MadScientist's advice was really good.) – bad_coder Feb 2 at 21:18

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