New Questions and Answers

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.

September Q&A

Q. Searching for a guideline for “is known as” turns up two possible punctuation choices for the term/terms that follow. Sometimes the term is enclosed within double quotes; sometimes it lacks any punctuation. How does one decide?

A. Both styles are commonly used. Quotation marks are especially appropriate when the term is a play on words (e.g., the intersection known as “Hollywood & Wine”) or when it might not otherwise be clear where the term begins (e.g., the insect known as the “pleasing fungus beetle”).

Q. Is there a general rule on how to interpret a sentence like “The box must be A and B or C”? Does it mean the box must be A, and also either B or C? Or does it mean the box must be either both A and B, or just C?

A. This is the kind of instruction that makes test takers abandon hope. The general order of operations in logic is that and takes precedence over or: “The box must be A and B or C” means “The box must be (A and B) or (C).” However, a reader is left to guess whether the person who wrote the instruction knew that. Sometimes context gives a clue:

The box must be assembled and blue or black = (A) and (B or C).
The box must be taped and labeled or empty = (A and B) or (C).

The strategic insertion of either is a classic aid to comprehension:

The box must be assembled and either blue or black = (A) and (B or C).
The box must be either taped and labeled or empty = (A and B) or (C).

Q. My client for a project that uses CMOS has asked that abbreviations ending with S be pluralized without the addition of a lowercase s. So, for example, a first reference is to “asset-backed securities (ABS)” rather than to “asset-backed securities (ABSs),” and subsequent references use ABS as a stand-in for either the singular or the plural term. I cited CMOS 7.15—but the client is “used to seeing” abbreviations without the added s and says it “looks awkward.” I accept that the client gets to call the shots, so I acceded to the request. Did I accede too readily?

A. You did your job—there’s just no saving some people from themselves.

Q. I’ve written a number of technical user manuals. I would always write, “Perform step 1a, then do step 1b.” But then the Microsoft style guide stated that I should always write, “Perform step 1a, and then do step 1b.” I prefer the former and think it’s perfectly OK. What sayest thou?

A. Although CMOS 16 was silent on the issue, it is covered in the new 17th edition in response to many reader queries like yours: “The adverb then is often seen between independent clauses as shorthand for and then, preceded by a comma.” Please see the examples at 6.57.

Q. Is it acceptable to use the “from . . . to” and the “between . . . and” constructions interchangeably when referring to inclusive numbers and years? For example, “from 1900 to 1910” and “between 1900 and 1910” mean two different things to me. The first one is inclusive of the years 1900 and 1910, while the second one is not inclusive, literally meaning “from 1901 to 1909.” Others disagree with me on this.

A. Both constructions are ambiguous. The fact that people don’t agree on their meaning attests to this. For that reason, use whichever you like, and when it’s important to include or exclude a particular year (it isn’t always), make it clear by using phrases like “beginning in,” “ending in,” and “up to and including.”

Q. I’m editing a biography. The author has used a rather journalistic style of writing to indicate the ages of members of the family, e.g., Mary, 12, Ellen, 10, and John, 3. Apart from the general rule of spelling out zero through one hundred, I believe this kind of list is stylistically inappropriate in a discursive work, and would prefer to see it written. For example, Mary was then twelve years old, Ellen was ten, and John, three. Do you agree?

A. We do agree. Your preference aligns with Chicago style, which is favored by humanists, novelists, and other creative writers. See chapter 9 (Numbers) for confirmation. Please note, however, that to many people newspaper-style numerals are familiar and easy to read, and they are not incorrect.

Q. I am writing a dissertation on a cartoon series that appeared in a magazine. The title of the magazine is in the title of the cartoon series. Do I italicize? Magazine title: The Etude Music Magazine (I will always italicize that). Cartoon series title: “The Etude Educational Cartoons” (I have put it in quotes in every instance, but my editor doesn’t know if The Etude should be italicized in this case).

A. A magazine title is always italic, even if it’s within a title in quotation marks. Please see CMOS 17, section 8.173 (“Italicized Terms and Titles within Titles”). Please note, too, that Chicago style for comic strips and cartoon series is also italics (8.200, “Cartoons”). Thus in Chicago style your title would be entirely in italics, with the magazine part quoted: “The Etude” Educational Cartoons.

Q. Hello, I was sure I had read somewhere that there is a way to search the website and find CMOS 17 changes. It was just a single word or phrase that brought up things that changed. I cannot find the information or the word you used to search. Can you direct me to the correct place to find those changes?

A. Certainly! For a list of significant changes and updates go to the Help & Tools page of CMOS Online and click on “What’s New in the 17th Edition.” You can also find some changes by searching for the word departure, but since there are thousands of little edits and tweaks in the new edition, this will only be a start.

Q. If a copyright page needs to appear at the end of a book (because, for example, p. iv needs to be used for sponsor information), does the copyright page need to appear in the table of contents? CMOS 1.38 explains why the copyright page is not included when it precedes the TOC (“[TOC] should include all preliminary material that follows it but exclude anything that precedes it”), but it’s not clear whether the copyright page should be included when it falls at the book’s end. Thanks!

A. A copyright page at the back of a book does not need to be included in the contents list, especially if the copyright page is unnumbered. But there’s no rule against including it, in which case the page should be numbered.

Q. The Chicago Manual is a thick guide that is difficult to follow. As a student and researcher, I find it difficult to find the appropriate citation for the cover page, in-text citations, and paper formatting. As a student in the library science field, it would be nice if the 17th edition of the Chicago Manual lacked these problems. If you are a newbie looking through the Chicago Manual, you don’t want to get a migraine or go blind from reading it.

A. It seems to me that you’re using The Chicago Manual of Style, which is for preparing manuscripts for publication, instead of Kate Turabian’s A Manual for Writers, which explains how to prepare class papers and theses in Chicago style. CMOS does not cover the formatting of student papers, but Turabian gives detailed guidelines. See also the For Students pages at the CMOS Shop Talk blog for the answers to many basic questions about paper writing, including paper setup.

Q. Hi—I have researched this but would like a definitive answer. Is it “cell phone” or “cellphone”? Merriam-Webster shows it as “cell phone” but “smartphone” is one word.

A. For “definitive” answers, you can’t beat the dictionary! Even CMOS checks in with Merriam-Webster now and then.