New Questions and Answers

Q. Our organization just had a raging dispute about the use of the term “the 1910s.” This term is actually going to be used in a photo caption in a book. I’m astounded! What do you think of this?

A. I think it’s the way CMOS 17 styles it at section 9.33 (“Decades”):

To refer to the second decade (i.e., without writing “second decade”), prefer numerals (e.g., 1910s); the expression “the teens” should be avoided, at least in formal contexts.

Q. Are digits (e.g., 4, 8) appropriate for use in illustrations or diagrams to save space, even if they would be spelled out in text (e.g., four, eight)?

A. Highly appropriate! If you look at the “Illustrations and Tables” chapter of CMOS, you will see digits in the examples.

Q. I’m unable to find in CMOS, 17th ed., whether the following sentence is acceptable or needs to be rewritten, as it has both a past and future time but only a future verb: Three main planets have, or soon will, change to new signs.

A. It needs to be rewritten, because if you remove the part that is made parenthetical by commas (“or soon will”), the part that remains (“have change to new signs”) doesn’t work. Try this: Three main planets have changed, or soon will change, to new signs.

Q. When referring to the left or right side of a vehicle, is the adjective possessive or attributive? Is the proper form “driver’s-side door” or “driver-side door”?

A. You get to decide! Both are fine.

Q. In running text, what is the proper way to write out a URL—with the www or without?

A. Please see CMOS 8.191 (“Titles of Websites and Web Pages”):

Many websites either do not have a formal title or do not have a title that distinguishes it as a website. These can usually be identified according to the entity responsible for the site along with a description of the site and, in some cases, a short form of the URL. For example, might be referred to in running text as

Browsing in the Manual, you might also notice that in running text we have chosen to include the entire protocol, beginning with http (CMOS 6.8, 7.46, etc.).

Q. Dear CMOS, I am attempting to cite a modern edition of a medieval text called The Rule of Saint Benedict, which was written by the eponymous saint. The title page lists only the editor-translator. Which of the following would you recommend for the bibliography entry?

Venarde, Bruce L., ed. and trans. The Rule of Saint Benedict. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 6. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011.
Benedict. The Rule of Saint Benedict. Edited and translated by Bruce L. Venarde. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 6. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011.

A. Both suggestions are fine. Consider alphabetizing under Benedict’s name (with the name in square brackets). After all, it’s not obvious that a book called The Rule of Saint Benedict was written by the saint.

Q. Hello! I’m copyediting a biography for a university press. I’m looking at a list that is quoted in running text with roman numerals, and it’s not nice to look at or particularly easy to read. The list items are short, and numbering isn’t even needed. (The quote is from a secondary source, so the author may not know the layout of the original source.) I’m wondering if I can delete the roman numerals or add punctuation without ellipses and/or brackets. Here’s the sentence in question:

The meeting approved a few basic principles: “The farmers of Canada had to unite to I. protect themselves, II. to obtain complete control of their produce, III. to market their produce themselves.”

A. If you can query the author, ask if the quotation can be paraphrased. If not, adding editor’s brackets might help: “the farmers of Canada had to unite to [I] protect themselves, [II] to obtain complete control of their produce, [III] to market their produce themselves.”

Q. Can you please answer definitively whether miss should be capitalized in direct address? Let me help you with that, miss. Or, Let me help you with that, Miss.

A. Definitively? No. While it may be traditional to cap Miss in direct address, lowercasing is Chicago style.

Q. I just read this line in an AP news article: “Spanish stocks sunk as the country grappled with its most serious national crisis in decades.” Then I looked up sunk in the online Merriam-Webster dictionary to find that they define the word as both the past tense and past participle of sink! Please tell me CMOS is not adopting this form of language erosion. I contend that sank is the past tense of sink in the same way that shrank is the past tense of shrink. It seems that understanding of past participles versus past tense is quickly vanishing.

A. The new 17th edition of CMOS sticks with the traditional sink-sank-sunk conjugation, and sank is still the first option for past tense at Merriam-Webster online. But in future if a number of authoritative dictionaries agree that the new usage has solidified, surely you won’t want Chicago to insist on an obsolete expression. Language is a living, growing thing, not a decaying one. Best not to grieve over this!

Q. CMOS Editors, which way does Chicago lean—singular or plural verb in “One in ten people is/are affected”?

A. In formal written English, expressions like “one in ten” take a singular verb (is), since one is a singular noun. In informal speech and writing, the plural often sounds more natural.

Q. I’m editing a book on cross-examination. The word cross-examination occurs hundreds of times and is causing headaches for the compositor in terms of word division at the ends of lines. Can cross-examination be divided as cross-exami- or any other way? Also, is a compositor expected to know the fine points of word division? In the production chain, who normally catches word-division problems?

A. Each house has its own set of rules for composition. Compositors are expected to know the fine points of word division, but they are also expected to follow each client’s rules. While it would be better not to divide “cross-examination” anywhere except after “cross,” that is probably impossible if the word appears many times. Good typesetters are usually the best judges of when a bad break is the best choice. A proofreader can request that the break be closed up, but the result might be even uglier. You can see Chicago’s hyphenation rules on this page in CMOS Online, in figure 3.

Q. According to the CMOS hyphenation guide, number + noun modifiers call for a hyphen, but what about noun + number modifiers? I’m interested in cases such as “stage-2 cancer” versus “stage 2 cancer” and “stage-C3 HIV” versus “stage C3 HIV.” My suspicion is that the answer is in fact to forgo the hyphen.

A. You’re right—no hyphen. You can find this advice in the “noun + numeral or enumerator” section of the hyphenation guide, which says, “Both noun and adjective forms always open” and gives the following examples:

a type A executive
type 2 diabetes
size 12 slacks
a page 1 headline

Q. The most common paragraph in a scientific paper’s introduction is the last one: “The remainder of this paper is organized as follows: Section 1 will . . . ; section 2 will . . . ,” etc. Is it correct not to use a colon after follows, but rather a period? Using a period would allow us to change this long sentence into four or five sentences to cover all the remaining sections.

A. Although it’s not incorrect to use a period, a colon is conventionally used after “as follows.” Please see CMOS 17, 6.64 (Colons with “As Follows”). Further, a colon may introduce a series of sentences instead of just one phrase or clause (6.63, Lowercase or Capital Letter after a Colon).

Q. Good morning! Do sayings on bumper stickers and T-shirts (and the like) follow the same rule as mottoes?

A. You may be happy to learn that the editors at Chicago have not gotten around to dictating rules for sayings on mugs, T-shirts, bumper stickers, and the like. Go wild!

October Q&A

Q. I’m editing a manuscript that mentions a replica of Michelangelo’s David. I know that per 8.198 (17th ed.), David should be italicized. However, should it be italicized in sentences like “David was naked, after all”; “he stumbled forward into David and knocked the statue over onto the pavers; “David’s head parted company with his underendowed body”? I hope to avoid numerous repetitions of the phrase “the statue of David.”

A. Fun manuscript! Italics for the statue would work in all those sentences. The roman version obscures the fact that David is a statue and causes a split-second confusion (who is this person David?) before we remember it’s a statue. Unless the passage is meant to cast the statue as almost alive, say, for the sake of humor, I’d stick with italics. And you can always use “the statue” without adding “of David.”

Q. My writer frequently writes a sentence with several points, each of which is denoted by a number inside parentheses. Sometimes these points are preceded by a comma or semicolon, and sometimes there is no punctuation to distinguish between each part other than the aforementioned (#)s. Which way is correct? Should these points be preceded by some punctuation, and if so, what kind?

A. Write the sentence with whatever punctuation would be appropriate if there were no inserted numbers. That is, (1) you should be able to remove the numbers, and (2) afterward, you should be left with a correct sentence.

Q. I’m writing a paper in which I periodically have to repeat quotations, or parts of quotations, that I have already used earlier in the work. I’ve looked through CMOS but I still can’t work out how this should be done. I could just repeat the citation (I’m using author-date style), but this seems cumbersome.

A. Bingo! Repeating author-date citations is not pretty, but when you’re identifying quotations, whether previously quoted or not, it gets the job done. An alternative is to use abbreviations for the titles of works you cite frequently, in which case you should provide a list of abbreviations somewhere.

Q. In a nongovernmental organization, are job titles ever capitalized in full or part when they include the name of a department? For example, Network Development is the name of a department; would we use lowercase when referring to a “network development specialist”? Thank you for any guidance.

A. It’s your choice, depending on meaning. If you want to identify which department the specialist belongs to, you would use the uppercased name of the department (a specialist in Network Development). If you are describing the type of work the specialist does (developing networks), you would use the lowercase generic form.

Q. Is it ever appropriate to elide a conjunction between two parts of a compound predicate and use a comma (for example, “He walked to the door, opened it.”)? I notice that many of the fiction authors I edit do this frequently.

A. In fiction weird constructions are sometimes appropriate; they should generally be tolerated until they become annoying.

Q. Hi, I am working on a publication which uses imperial measurements and have been asked to provide the metric equivalent in parentheses. I am not sure how to deal with this when the measurements form a hyphenated compound adjective before a noun. Using an example from your hyphenation table, three-inch-high statuette, would the hyphen placement in the following conversion be reasonable? three-inch (eight-centimeter)-high statuette? Many thanks.

A. Unfortunately, that is not an option. Either eliminate the adjective (in this case, high) or reword: a statuette three inches (eight centimeters) high.

Q. How do you pluralize an acronym where the plural form of the word written out does not use an s? For example, if I have an acronym of ALC that stands for Adorable Little Child and want to make the acronym plural (i.e., Adorable Little Children), do I use the s or leave it out? If I use the s and write the plural acronym as ALCs, I feel like I’m saying Adorable Little Childrens, which is not grammatically correct. Would ALC be used for both the singular and plural?

A. Readers are used to understanding that the plural of an abbreviation is made by adding s to it: ALCs (pronounced \ˈā-ˈel-ˈsēz\). You can overthink these things!

Q. The author has italicized the names of fashionable gowns (e.g., “the Primavera gown, inspired by Botticelli”), perhaps as a work of art. My inclination is to remove the italics. Do you have a guideline on this?

A. I suppose it seems perverse that a “style” guide has no guidelines for fashion. But a Primavera gown is just another branded product, no different from, say, Purina Waggin’ Train Chicken Jerky Tenders, for which simple caps will do.

Q. Is impactful a word and can it be used in place of influential?

A. Absolutely. Impactful is a word, and it is often used in place of influential. But like irregardless, ain’t, and alright (all of which are words in the dictionary), impactful is frowned upon as nonstandard English. Please see CMOS 5.250 (17th ed.), under impact; impactful: “Avoid impactful, which is jargon (replacements include influential and powerful).”

Q. I see that CMOS considers a line consisting of a single word or part of a word to be an “orphan.” I understand that a line that consists of only part of one word would look strange and be undesirable, but is it really necessary to avoid one-word lines in all cases? If the word is short (one or two letters), it does look strange, but I think longer words look fine and are sometimes helpful in “stretching” text that needs to fill a full page.

A. Actually, the CMOS definition of an orphan is the first line of a paragraph that appears as the last line on a page. (Please see CMOS 17, 2.116, or under orphan in the glossary.) Paragraph 2.116 further advises, “The last word in any paragraph must not be hyphenated unless at least four letters (in addition to any punctuation) are carried over to the final line.” So yes, longer words (or parts of words) are fine as the sole content on the last line.

Q. I can’t find anywhere in CMOS 17 the correct procedure for punctuation at the end of rhetorical questions. A question mark seems out of place and an exclamation point, which CMOS does mention, seems gratuitous. Here are two such rhetorical questions from my forthcoming book:

The question for any owner or manager was, however, how much revenue are those live commercials bringing into the station.

The bigger question would be, could Crist and Johnson hold on to the station.

Will a period suffice for those?

A. Paragraph 6.69 (17th ed., “Direct and Indirect Questions”) is probably what you’re looking for. Your sentences do require question marks, but it might be better to reword them as statements with periods:

The question for any owner or manager was, however, how much revenue those live commercials are bringing into the station.

The bigger question would be whether Crist and Johnson could hold on to the station. 

See CMOS 6.42 for related advice.

Q. I recently read an article about a con artist who was described as “running a fine wine scam.” The ambiguity—is it a fine scam with wine or a scam with fine wine?—is driving me to drink. Is it acceptable in this situation to write finewine as one word to resolve the ambiguity? Please uncork me a good answer.

A. A hyphen will create the perfect pairing: a fine-wine scam. If in actuality it was a fine scam involving plonk, rewording will produce a less flabby finish.