New Questions and Answers

Q. In 8.174 (17th ed.), you state that the title of a work should not be used in a sentence as though it’s interchangeable with the subject matter. I agree wholeheartedly, but I’m getting repeated resistance from a writer I work with. I’d love to have a succinct rationale to give her to reinforce my position (ideally one that doesn’t sound unprofessional and snarky). It comes up in situations where the writer needs a headline or email subject line and uses “Your Tips for Getting Ahead are here!” or the like. And then it becomes clear in the body text that follows that a document titled “Tips for Getting Ahead” is being offered.

A. It’s hard to argue with someone who doesn’t see the point, which is admittedly a bit subtle. But if you are able to edit your colleague, a professional, snarkless approach would be to style her heads so they work as real sentences: e.g., “Your Tips for Getting Ahead Are Here!” When this isn’t possible, don’t worry. In most cases, the head will convey the right meaning regardless. If you save your argument for when real confusion would result, your colleague might be better able to see what you mean.

Q. How do you feel about lastly, as in, “Lastly, a study of cancer patients . . .”?

A. CMOS 17 prefers last. Please see 5.250 (“Good Usage versus Common Usage”), under last; lastly.

Q. In the money examples in the hyphenation guide, I would not have allowed the last example, “a $50–$60 million loss.” Almost certainly “a $50 million to $60 million loss” was meant, but the construction reads “fifty dollars to sixty million dollars.”

A. Luckily, in most contexts misreading is unlikely in the way you suggest (“Yes, it was a bad year; I suffered a loss between fifty dollars and sixty million dollars”). In the rare instance where such an expression could cause confusion, a writer should expand the range.

Q. I would like to know whether hyphenated words should always fall on the same line of a sentence. Is it OK to have the prefix at the end of one line and the rest of the word on the next line?

A. In printed materials it’s rarely possible to avoid hyphenating words at the end of all lines. In almost any book, you will see hyphens peppering the edge of the right margin. When a word must be hyphenated at the end of a line, it’s best to divide it at a logical location, such as after a prefix. You can read about word division involving prefixes at CMOS 7.40 (17th ed.). More on word division is found at CMOS 7.36–47.

Q. I’ve always followed this advice in Chicago: “If, as occasionally happens, the Collegiate disagrees with the Third International, the Collegiate (or its online counterpart) should be followed, since it represents newer lexical research.” We subscribe to the online Unabridged (which also includes the Collegiate), and lately this advice no longer seems to apply consistently. Merriam-Webster seems to be updating entries in the Unabridged and leaving the Collegiate with the older version. For example, the Unabridged has life-span while the Collegiate has life span. Typically, the hyphenated version would be the more up to date.

A. It’s true—the lexicographers at M-W can’t be everywhere at once, which leaves discrepancies between their various versions. But the kinds of changes you’re talking about are minor. It’s not as though life span is now so grossly incorrect that using it would invite viral shaming on Twitter. We hyphenate a compound to make it easier to read or to prevent misreading. If you use common sense and keep a style sheet, you needn’t worry about whether you’re up to the minute with M-W.

Q. While CMOS states that a ship’s name should be set in italics, what if it is used as a part of the name of a larger body, such as the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group? Would the ship’s name be italicized in that instance?

A. Although CMOS is silent on the subject, using all roman type in this situation seems similar to putting periodical titles in roman when they are part of the name of an organization, building, award, or so forth (Los Angeles Times Book Prize; Chicago Defender Charities). Please see CMOS 17, 8.172.

Q. When pluralizing surnames, are there instances when using an apostrophe could be considered appropriate? For example, “We’re going to dinner with the Laos” is potentially confusing. This sentence could easily be reworded (We’re going to dinner with the Lao family), but I’m wondering if Lao’s could be allowed in this context; that is, when pluralizing short, traditionally Asian surnames that could be misread when an s is added (e.g., the Gus, the Hans).

A. Although one could argue for this solution by citing the apostrophes that CMOS recommends for the plural of lowercase letters of the alphabet (“two a’s and three b’s”), using an apostrophe in surnames to indicate the plural is going to strike many readers as a flat-out mistake. You’re right that it’s easy to reword.

Q. In a footnote do the year and page number go at the beginning or at the end?

A. The page number usually goes at the end of a citation. The placement of the year depends on whether you’re using the notes-bibliography system or the author-date system. You can find a free guide to both systems at our website.

Q. I’m editing a transcript, and our department’s lead editor is giving me some trouble. We’re suffering over the word so. Under what circumstances can one put a comma after so? For example, in this transcript, a woman says: “So great answer.” Is so functioning conjunctively here, or can it be treated as an interjection? And what, if anything, does that mean for comma placement?

A. Is there a recording, or did someone actually hear the woman speak? To deduce the part of speech, you have to know the intonation and pacing. Was the speaker referring to a “so great answer” with no break between so and great? Or did she say “so, [pause] great answer!”? The first use is adverbial (so modifies great) and would not take a comma, whereas the second is a kind of conjunction (an introductory particle) after which a comma would be helpful in indicating a pause. An ellipsis or dash might be even better. But if you don’t have a recording, there’s no way to decide the punctuation, unless you can guess from the context.

Q. Our office compiles, edits, and publishes the laws and statutes for the state legislature. Some people in the office are averse to hyphenating phrasal adjectives, particularly ones that consist of open compounds, because they feel “these are terms recognized by everyone and are unnecessary to hyphenate. There is no confusion when reading ‘wild rice industry,’ ‘general fund appropriation,’ ‘high school student.’ These terms are instantly recognizable.” A bit presumptuous, no? A good editor helps the reader, especially when it comes to law and litigation. How does one decide whether a term is known to everyone in the world?

A. It’s not easy. You must send out a survey to everyone in the world and wait for them all to reply. Meanwhile, the rest of us will struggle along with common sense, CMOS 7.84 (17th ed.), and a good dictionary.

November Q&A

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!