New Questions and Answers

Q. In a dissertation that includes a lengthy biographical chapter sourced almost entirely by personal interviews, complex ecclesiastical archives (including diocesan newsletters, Vatican documents), and various personal letters, I, as editor, have used in-text referencing throughout except for that one chapter, for which I have used footnotes. Within that chapter, published books are also documented in-text. Is that combination of two methods of referencing acceptable? Or should I simply have used footnotes throughout because the interviews and archival information couldn’t be documented in-text?

A. Usually, a college or university’s dissertation office decides what is acceptable. If they don’t mind your system, we don’t!

Q. How would you punctuate an invented noun? I am editing a theoretical work that uses adjective + -ness to come up with new forms of abstract concepts along the lines of Americanness and pinkness. For both of those words, I would close the suffix and omit the hyphen; my author has them separated with a hyphen (pink-ness). Which is correct style?

A. Chicago style leans the way you do, generally closing up suffixes unless a spelling is awkward. Pinkness and Americanness seem pretty straightforward without hyphens, but that’s an editorial decision rather than a pronouncement that they’re “correct.” If a word isn’t in the dictionary, the writer must decide on a styling, knowing that others might choose differently.

Q. What is the rule for subject-verb agreement when a sentence has a collective noun + prepositional phrase + relative pronoun? For example, should it be “Scientists follow a set of guidelines that include x” (because the antecedent of that is guidelines), or “Scientists follow a set of guidelines that includes x” (because the subject is set)? Or does the answer differ depending on whether the writer wants to emphasize set or guidelines as the subject? And would the answer change if the sentence had “the set” instead of “a set” (as in the rule about mass noun + prepositional phrase)?

A. The verb goes with whichever noun is the subject. Often that will be clear {the box of rocks that was too wide for the door; the box of rocks that were brought back from space}. In your sentence the meaning is nearly the same whichever noun you choose, and that’s often true. The choice of article doesn’t matter {a box of rocks that was too wide; a box of rocks that were brought back from space}.

Q. I am an editor having a debate with some authors over their use of this article title: “Intangible Values of Palliative Nursing Care.” I have told them that it doesn’t make sense because there is no such thing as a value that is tangible, despite the existence of accounting terms such as “tangible value.” I prefer a title such as “Intangible Elements of Palliative Nursing Care.” What is your take on this?

A. Our take is that a good dictionary can prevent many an editorial squabble. Both tangible and intangible have a figurative meaning, which is why “tangible value” makes sense to accountants. In the same way, intangible makes sense in the article title. See Merriam-Webster Unabridged, under intangible (“2 : incapable of being defined or determined with certainty or precision”).

Q. I’m editing a contract with many lists in it. After the recent court case involving the serial comma, I am trying to be even more diligent. I am sure at one point I read that if you have a list with items separated by the word or, you do not need a comma. I have looked through the entire comma, list, and conjunction sections of CMOS, but do not see any guidance. Which is correct? Here’s an example: I will eat pasta or pizza or salad. I will eat pasta, or pizza, or salad. Thank you in advance!

A. You will find what you’re looking for at CMOS 16, 6.18: “In a series whose elements are all joined by conjunctions, no commas are needed unless the elements are long and delimiters would be helpful.” This doesn’t mean that commas are forbidden when the elements are short, however. In some cases where pauses are needed, they may be appropriate.

Q. I see three different treatments for upper right in the Q&A responses: upper right, upper-right, upper right-hand. Are there any guidelines for this term? Is it hyphenated as an adjective and not as a noun? (“In the upper-right corner” vs. “In the upper right”?)

A. Yes: hyphenate the adjective and leave the noun open. Find guidelines for this kind of term and many others at CMOS 16, section 7.85.

Q. Is it OK to hyphenate a word at the end of a line that is already a hyphenated word? It looks really awkward to me, and I always call attention to this double hyphenation when I am editing/copyediting. Am I being too prissy? I can’t find anything about this in Chicago.

A. CMOS 16 covers this at section 2.109: “When it is a question of an intelligible but nonstandard word break for a line that would otherwise be too loose or too tight, the nonstandard break (such as the hyphenation of an already hyphenated term) may be preferred.” In other words, sometimes the ugliness of a double break is preferable to the ugliness of bad spacing.

Q. In your April Q&A, you answered a question about “woman pilot” vs. “female pilot.” I’m surprised that you didn’t address the unspoken aspect of the question: why mention gender at all? I’m guessing no one says “man pilot” or “male pilot,” just as people don’t say “white doctor,” but they do say “black doctor” as if gender and color are only worth noting if the people don’t belong to the dominant demographics. Does Chicago have any thoughts about that?

A. This is absolutely the right question to ask, but there are actually plenty of occasions when it makes sense to specify the gender of a pilot. {How many women pilots asked to join the association this year?} {Are male pilots paid more than women pilots?} {When did the first female pilot make that trip?}. CMOS 16 addresses this issue explicitly at 5.230:

When it is important to mention a characteristic because it will help the reader develop a picture of the person you are writing about, use care. For instance, in the sentence Shirley Chisholm was probably the finest African American woman member of the House of Representatives that New York has ever had, the phrase African American woman may imply to some readers that Chisholm was a great representative “for a woman” but may be surpassed by many or all men, that she stands out only among African American members of Congress, or that it is unusual for a woman or an African American to hold high office. But in Shirley Chisholm was the first African American woman to be elected to Congress and one of New York’s all-time best representatives, the purpose of the phrase African American woman is not likely to be misunderstood.

Q. How does one handle a parenthetical phrase within dialogue? For example, is this correct? “Hi, Tiger (his father’s nickname for him). What are you doing?”

A. Parentheses in speech or dialogue are awkward, because we don’t know whose words they are. If you really need to set off text in this way, square brackets [ ] are the standard way to set off an editorial insertion. But in a case like this, try rewording to avoid the interpolation.

Q. In references to more than one century, is it correct to use century when expressing a range and centuries when expressing a block of time? Is it “from the late eighteenth to early twentieth century” but “during the late eighteenth and early twentieth centuries”?

A. Exactly. Please see CMOS 16, section 9.33 (“Centuries”).

Q. Do I not have the hyphenation correct in phrases like “3-D printing” and “2-D projection”? I figure that they feature an abbreviation of the word dimensional being used as an attributive compound adjective, so they do call for hyphenation. I ask because one often encounters the abbreviations styled as 3D and 2D. Am I being overly fussy?

A. Yes! Fussy! Chicago style is 3-D (or three-dimensional), but other style guides and dictionaries are fine with 3D. See, for instance, American Heritage Dictionary, which lists 3D first.

April Q&A

Q. I am editing a fiction story that has the word slash used as a separator of terms such as “toys slash books slash paint party” instead of the / mark. Is it acceptable to use the word rather than the mark itself?

A. The word is especially appropriate if a character is speaking or the text is meant to sound like personal narration. In running text, it would be a judgment call, depending on the kind of writing. The usage is strongly suggestive of someone speaking; it’s most appropriate in conversational contexts.

Q. Dear CMOS: In making bibliographic entries, I am not finding a way to call attention to multilingual publications. It would be of great value to my international audience to know that the text of the publication is translated into two, three, or four languages. I worry that it is not clear which language is used in the text, or that the entirety of the text is presented in multiple languages. How could this be accomplished?

A. You could write after the citation something like “Includes translations into French, Spanish, and German.”

Q. Concerning the author-date system of references, we use in-text citations and many times in-text citations end up in footnotes. Some authors will write “See Author1 2011, 123–34, and Author2 2000, and Author3 2004.” Others would write “See Author1 (2011, 123–34), and Author2 (2000), and Author3 (2004).” Which is correct?

A. Both styles are popular and conform to Chicago style guidelines. Please see CMOS 16, 15.24–30, for many examples. Semicolons work well in place of and.

Q. I keep hearing people say things like “She was a woman pilot” and “We have a woman speaker tonight.” In my mind, this is completely incorrect—shouldn’t it be female, not woman? Since when did woman become an adjective? Am I crazy?

A. You are merely perhaps a little behind the times. Woman has long been an accepted adjective. Please see CMOS 16, 5.226 (“Sex-Specific Labels as Adjectives”):

When gender is relevant, it’s acceptable to use the noun woman as a modifier {woman judge}. In recent decades, woman has been rapidly replacing lady in such constructions. The adjective female is also often used unobjectionably.

—Editor’s update:

A. This is absolutely the right question to ask, but there are actually plenty of occasions when it makes sense to specify the gender of a pilot. {How many women pilots asked to join the association this year?} {Are male pilots paid more than women pilots?} {When did the first female pilot make that trip?}. CMOS 16 addresses this issue explicitly at 5.230:

When it is important to mention a characteristic because it will help the reader develop a picture of the person you are writing about, use care. For instance, in the sentence Shirley Chisholm was probably the finest African American woman member of the House of Representatives that New York has ever had, the phrase African American woman may imply to some readers that Chisholm was a great representative “for a woman” but may be surpassed by many or all men, that she stands out only among African American members of Congress, or that it is unusual for a woman or an African American to hold high office. But in Shirley Chisholm was the first African American woman to be elected to Congress and one of New York’s all-time best representatives, the purpose of the phrase African American woman is not likely to be misunderstood.

Q. Hi! I see a common mistake from writers I edit, but I’m not sure what to call it. An example sentence: “A key to understanding the movie was its being a musical.” Another: “One of the most interesting things about them is their endorsing a candidate.” A noun phrase made up of an “its + -ing + noun” formula. Certainly, these are easily rephrased, but is there a word for this besides simply poor writing style? Is there a grammatical rule I can refer these writers to? It’s pretty clearly colloquial for the region these writers are from, but I’d love to be able to give them a more accurate, professional response than “it just sounds bad.”

A. Although in some constructions (like yours) it is awkward, using the possessive (including pronouns) with a gerund is accepted grammar. Please see CMOS 16, 7.26, for a discussion and examples (e.g., “I won’t put up with him [or his] being denigrated”).

Q. In the following conversion in prose, should it be written “six feet (1.80 meters)” or “six feet (1.8 meters)”?

A. This is a matter of accuracy, rather than style. Six feet is 1.8288 meters. Rounded to the nearest tenth, that’s 1.8, but rounded to the nearest hundredth, it’s 1.83. So it would be inaccurate to write 1.80. Write 1.8 or 1.83 instead.

Q. I have read the sections on suspension points and em dashes, but I’m still a little confused about when to use them in some instances for a pause or break in the writer’s train of thought. If you use suspension points when the pause is a faltering and an em dash when there’s an interruption or a more abrupt break, how do you handle more “neutral” pauses in a sentence that are neither abrupt nor accompanied by confusion or insecurity? I would lean toward the em dash, but I have an AU that is ellipsis-happy, so it is making me question my judgement. Is an ellipsis okay in the instances below, or would an em dash fit the bill better? “I confidently thought I had his same sense of timing . . . or tie-ming.” “I could sense the potential for a fun, educational television show hosted by none other than . . . me.”

A. Such pauses as the ones you quote are fine with ellipses. It’s probably best to trust the writer unless you encounter something truly jarring or confusing. Of course, a distracting overuse of ellipses is something to point out to a writer, who might then be motivated to eliminate some.

Q. Who is responsible for putting in text corrections to a manuscript, the editor or the people in graphics? This is a real bone of contention in our office.

A. Typically, editors make corrections up to a certain point in the production process, after which they no longer have access to the files. At that point a graphic designer or typesetter must make the corrections, either as requested by an editor or with the editor’s knowledge and approval. Every publishing house should have a strict protocol for such matters. 

Q. CMOS 16, 14.98, gives a way to cite a book with two subtitles: by using a colon and then a semicolon between the three pieces of the title. What if the book I want to cite already has a colon printed between the first and second subtitles (no punctuation between title and first subtitle)? Is it okay to insert a colon between the title and first subtitle, then change the printed colon to a semicolon between the first and second subtitle?

A. When you say that there is no punctuation between the title and subtitle, it sounds as though you’re looking at a book cover or title page. Punctuation in a citation is not based on covers and title pages (“display type”), because there often isn’t any punctuation there. In display, the title is often set on its own line and given special treatment, like larger type or color, which conveys to the reader where the title stops and the subtitle begins.

Short answer: yes, in a citation you must insert punctuation to convey where the title ends and where the first subtitle ends. Check the Library of Congress information on the copyright page to confirm your impression. (The various subtitles will be separated by colons there.)

Q. The abbreviation for “revolutions per minute” is rpm as stipulated in section 10.52 (16th ed.). A document I’m editing contains a picture with the following label: “RPM Gauge.” I don’t like RPM being all capitals, but I’m not sure if rpm or Rpm is any better. What should I use?

A. Although rpm is Chicago style, RPM is well accepted. (Rpm less so.) It may be difficult or expensive or time-consuming to get changes made in an illustration, so unless there’s a problem caused by the departure from Chicago style, you should consider looking the other way. (An example of a “problem” would be if the text specifically discusses how to abbreviate the term and specifies the use of rpm, so that the inconsistency is confusing.)

Q. I recognize all writing formats today say there is to be one space between the period of a sentence and the first letter of the next sentence. I believe this fails to take into account studies that refer to visual cues that assist the reading process. So I start here with you to request this be fully discussed and reviewed with the hope that we may at minimum note that two spaces are acceptable between sentences. Thank you for your consideration of this matter.

A. I’m so sorry to report that that ship sailed long ago. You are a lone voice, crying in the wilderness. Too little, too late; a bolted horse, a dollar short. No metaphor can express how hopeless this is. Our best advice to you is to look for a silver lining in the single space.