Capitalization in Titles of Works

Q. I am editor for a group of academic writers, who recently squawked when I mentioned the following guideline in the CMOS, 16th edition (8.168): use lowercase and no italics for “the” in a newspaper title, even if it is part of the official title. Their concerns: (1) it seems unscholarly to treat “the” as a generic term when it is part of the official title; (2) doesn’t this flout copyright protocol? (3) why does the rule apply only to American newspapers? I found myself unable to offer concrete reasons for the rule, so I said I would ask the CMOS editors directly.

A. The reasoning is that it’s not practical to make a rule that requires checking every newspaper to see whether its official title has The in it or not. (Keep in mind that the convention was established in pre-Internet days.) And it doesn’t help to use The only in the cases where you can easily confirm it, since that would imply that titles without The were also definitive, when in fact they simply hadn’t been checked. As for copyright, titles are shortened all the time in scholarly writing. Foreign titles are exempt because it’s also impractical to research whether the first word in a foreign title means “the” or not. Most of us can recognize an article in Spanish or French, but even then, are we sure about words like de and da? What about Polish or Portuguese or Russian?

I hope this helps squelch the squawking.