New Questions and Answers

Q. CMOS 6.9 and 6.10 clearly define where closing punctuation goes in relation to quotation marks—particularly when the quoted text is a complete thought or phrase. However, where does the period go in text like the following: In the Gross Weight column, type “.01” and in the Volume column, type “1”. I’ve been putting the period inside, as in the following: Change the customer order status from “Delivered” to “Invoiced/Closed.” Which is correct in these types of cases?

A. Please see CMOS 7.75 (“Distinguishing words to be typed and other elements”). In your first example, a period after the 1 is likely to be taken as part of what should be typed. At best, it’s ambiguous, so to avoid misreading, put the period outside the quotation marks. This situation is uncommon and an exception to the American rules for punctuating quotations. In the second example, the instruction is clear, so use standard punctuation, putting the period before the ending quotation mark.

Q. I am working with a manuscript in which the faculties of reason and feeling are described as rationality and emotionality. Since emotionality is derived from emotional, it seems to me that it might convey an excessively emotional state rather than feeling. Kindly advise.

A. A quick Internet search reveals that emotionality is a term used by psychologists. If the manuscript is in that area, the term could well be accurate and appropriate. It would be wise to query the author before changing anything; with a little more research you might save yourself the embarrassment of querying a basic term.

Q. Do you have a policy about this pet peeve of mine? I think it is fine to write something like “My office hours are 10–11 AM,” but it really seems wrong when the en-dash is used in place of the word and or to. How can we make the world stop writing “My office hours are from 10–11 AM” or “My office hours are between 10–11 AM”?

A. We do have such a policy! (Please see CMOS 6.78.) Unfortunately, we have no way to make the world follow it.

Q. Colleagues have asserted that the definite article is never used with a comparative and that the use of a definite article requires the superlative. Consequently, even in comparing two items, they’d use the superlative with the definite article: “That is the biggest house.” “That is a better car.” I’ve asserted that, in comparing only two items, one uses the comparative: “That is the bigger house.” “That is the better car.” Who is right?

A. There are two statements at issue: (1) that the definite article is never used with a comparative, which is wrong; (2) that when comparing only two items one uses the comparative, which is right—but not exclusively so. It’s idiomatic to use the superlative when comparing only two items. Sometimes forcing the comparative just makes you sound pedantic. You can read Grammar Girl on the subject here.

Q. When citing lines of dialogue in films and movies in the notes and bibliography system specifically, is it enough to cite only the name of the film in the footnote for a shortened citation? Or would it be in the author’s interest to include a time stamp (HH:MM:SS)? It seems that this would better reflect the citation style of articles in books wherein the shortened citation also includes a page reference. Thank you.

A. When you are trying to decide what to include in a citation, it’s less important to think about whether the styling is going to look like other citations than about what information is helpful to readers. Page numbers are included in citations because it’s difficult to locate a passage without them. Time stamps are similarly helpful: they save a reader literally hours of searching through a movie looking for the quoted material. So yes, include a time stamp when you cite a specific frame or bit of dialogue from a movie.

Q. What is the protocol for alphabetizing a band name that includes a proper name? For example, Dave Matthews Band, or Les Claypool’s Frog Brigade? In both cases, the name is of someone in the band. Is the protocol different if the proper name is of someone not in the band?

A. The name of a band is like the name of a company, so begin with the first letter of the first word (aside from articles like The). When alphabetizing, try to think like someone who is going to be using the list. Basing alphabetization on something like whether a name belongs to someone in the band would not be helpful. First, a reader would never guess that you were using that organizing principle, and second, even if you noted it at the top of the list, a reader might not know which names belong to band members.

Q. If a writer presents a compound formed with a prefix that does not appear in Merriam-Webster’s, should it be hyphenated? Or is it OK to “create” a word by closing it up (if it doesn’t look too weird)? Of course I can’t think of any examples at the moment, but this comes up occasionally and I am often not sure how to proceed.

A. It’s not just OK—it’s necessary that editors and writers negotiate these things intelligently. Even if the compound does appear in M-W, dictionaries don’t always agree on the spelling of compounds. You should be open to your writer’s wanting it a different way. The author may be following a usage in his or her field that diverges from what’s in the dictionary. It’s why you keep a style sheet.

Q. What is the rule regarding quotations within parentheses within sentences—and, additionally, multisentence quotations in same? I know that this is correct: You’ll never catch him working out (repetitions? routine? forget it). But is this correct? You’ll never catch him working out (“No reps and routines for me. I can’t stand them.”).

A. Putting more than one complete sentence in parentheses in the middle of another sentence doesn’t work. We don’t recommend it! If the quotation is from a written source, the original punctuation must be preserved, but if you are quoting something spoken, you can change the period to a semicolon or dash and omit the ending period. Please see CMOS 6.13.

Q. When listing page reference numbers for image credits at the back of a book, should the vertical list of page numbers default to the left or to the right? E.g., if page number 9 appears above page number 16, would the 9 appear above the 1 or above the 6? If page number 85 appears above page number 123, would the 8 appear above the 1 or above the 2 of 123?

A. You will find this done every which way. Generally, the right-alignment of numbers in a vertical list is important only when the numbers are quantities that might be tallied, such as in a table column. If the numbers include a decimal point, they may be aligned on the point instead of on the rightmost digit. When the numbers are enumerators, alignment is an aesthetic issue that is usually decided by a graphic designer.

Q. I’m working on a manuscript in which I cite an assignment I gave my students as well as various pieces of writing (and other documents) they produced in response to it. None of this material is available in any archive (besides my filing cabinet). Would you recommend using the CMOS guidelines for unpublished manuscripts for citation? Or do I acknowledge the “archival limits” in the text and, perhaps, use a footnote to tell readers to contact me if they’re curious?

A. A footnote would be appropriate. Not every student assignment merits the label “unpublished manuscript.” A note could explain that copies of all the student work cited are in the author’s possession.

Q. I have been debating with my copyeditor guidelines concerning commas and dates. We consulted 6.45 on the topic but we still differ in opinion. I prefer “In the summer of 1812 General Hagerthy moved his troops” versus “In the summer of 1812, General Hagerthy moved his troops.” “Early in 1946 an opportunity came for my cousin” versus “Early in 1946, an opportunity came for my cousin.” I argue that a comma after the year is not needed. Gurus of style, please opine who is correct.

A. Rejoice: everyone is correct. Higher authorities are not interested in legislating commas to this degree. Peace.

August Q&A

Q. Is login a verb or only a noun? I’m wondering because the following sentence seems wrong to me: “To login to your personal account, enter your user name and password.” Shouldn’t it say log in as two words rather than login?

A. The verb is log in; log-in or login is the noun. You can confirm this in a dictionary.

Q. Dear CMOS Q&A Guru, we are having a heck of a time ferreting out the correct verb tense to use in the second half of a sentence. There are copyeditors lobbying for each of the following conjugations:

1. At the time of distribution of this circular, this item is not yet approved.

2. At the time of distribution of this circular, this item was not yet approved.

3. At the time of distribution of this circular, this item has not yet been approved.

4. At the time of distribution of this circular, this item had not yet been approved.

Can you definitively state which is most correct and why? Please help us put this question to rest. Thank you!

A. Your question is like asking “Which is the most correct: her eyes are blue, or her eyes are green?” The sentences are all grammatically correct. The idea is to use the one that describes the situation accurately. Sentences 1 and 3 are equally correct if the time of distribution is ongoing. Both imply that the item still has a chance of being approved, without stating whether approval is likely. Sentences 2 and 4 are equally correct if the time of distribution was in the past. Both imply that the item was ultimately approved, although it’s merely an implication.

Q. Dear CMOS Staff, in a recent issue of one of our periodicals, I altered the original lineup of the names of five coauthors appearing under the title of an article and reordered them alphabetically. One of the coauthors is unhappy with this and requests, too late, to keep the original lineup, which, I assume, implicitly establishes some hierarchy in authorship. What should be my response to the unhappy coauthor?

A. Your response should be groveling apologies and a promise to issue a correction in the next issue of the journal and in the online version. Name order is important to authors in certain disciplines, as it indicates who is the lead author. It is meaningful to anyone who reads the paper or sees the citation on a résumé. Sometimes employment and promotion depend on having published a certain number of articles as the lead author. This is a truly regrettable error—the kind of error that can put the reputation of your periodical into question. Please make every effort to make amends.

Q. Please help me alphabetize Villa Grove and Village. (My son and I have a disagreement on this.)

A. You can’t go wrong. If you use word-by-word alphabetizing, Villa Grove comes first. If you use letter-by-letter alphabetizing, Village comes first. Please read CMOS 16.59–61 on alphabetizing to understand these methods.

Q. I publish memoirs. One of my authors wants to include selected blurbs and reviews as part of the front matter. I’ve seen this done in other books under the heading “Advance praise for this book” or a similar heading. My questions to CMOS are (1) is it appropriate to include blurbs and reviews as part of the front matter, and (2) if so, where should they be placed? Thanks.

A. Many publishers include such blurbs. As you say, you’ve seen them yourself. Academic/scholarly publishers rarely do this; hence CMOS is silent. At a bookstore or library you can look at the latest memoirs to learn what’s in fashion.

Q. I’m copyediting some storyboards for kiosk displays in a state park and in the description of a historical site, there’s reference to “2,500 BP.” I know what that means (now that I’ve looked it up), but why not just say “ago”? Should I assume the audience for these displays will know “BP,” or may I suggest simply saying “ago”? (I thought, “British Petroleum,” for Pete’s sake.)

A. It’s a good idea to change it, since visitors to state parks include many people who would have no idea what BP means. But don’t get your hopes up: it’s likely that the state has a style guide and that all its signs conform to that style.

Q. In this sentence, “Inside the Bellevue, Washington, laboratory, where innovations are under way . . .” it seems to me that the comma after Washington distracts from the meaning. Since “Bellevue, Washington” describes “laboratory,” could one omit the comma? Or is that a hard, fast, no-exceptions-ever rule?

A. Although we never promote our guidelines as hard, fast, no-exceptions-ever rules, the second comma is Chicago style as well as standard use outside Chicago. The idea is to treat Washington as parenthetical, which requires a pair of commas.

Q. Is there a preferred way to refer in text to a specific column or row in a table? I tend to reuse the text in the column heading or stub entry rather than a number, just because I think it’s clearer that way. For example, “See ‘Countries’ column” rather than “See column 4.” Is that wrong?

A. Not at all. Some tables have numbered rows and columns, in which case “See column 4” is a perfect way to refer to the column. But a reference to a column number when the column heading is a word or phrase would not always be clear (e.g., which is column 1: the table stub or the first column after the stub?), and in a table with many columns, the reader would be forced to count the columns to find the data.

Q. I work at a university press, and during a meeting of project editors we had a disagreement about the correct placement of the glossary. CMOS recommends that the glossary appear between the notes and bibliography. Although we’ll accept this as your final answer, our question is why? Thank you!

A. Like many of the rules in CMOS, this one was begotten lo those many years ago. In an early edition of the manual, the glossary was placed just so, and then that edition begat the next. The next edition begat the following one, and the following one begat the one after, and so on down unto these very days. Obviously, someone at the dawn of time thought it was a good idea, and no one in all the generations since has found reason to mess with it. And so that is why.