New Questions and Answers

Q. We are writing an invitation for a New Year’s Eve party which will take place on December 31, 2015. Would it be referred to as New Year’s Eve 2016 or New Year’s Eve 2015? I’ve seen it both ways but can’t seem to find an authoritative answer. Thanks!

A. Since New Year’s Eve is December 31, there should be no doubt which year it is in. However, your own confusion suggests that it is not a good idea to write “New Year’s Eve [year].” If you’re afraid your guests will show up a year late, clarify by adding month, day, and year to your invitation.

Q. In a book printed with two columns per page, how should footnotes be handled? In two columns? Running across the entire page? If the former, should the notes in each column start at the same height on the page, or is it okay for them to be at different heights?

A. Putting the notes in two columns is ideal, but you must make sure that each note falls at the foot of the column it is called out in. Because the number and length of the notes for each column might vary dramatically, it’s not practical to always begin the notes at the same height. If this is an important project, consider hiring a graphic designer who specializes in scholarly books to make these decisions based on page size, column width, words per page, length of the notes, type sizes, etc. Otherwise, just use your best aesthetic sense and aim for readability and balance.

Q. “[Name of organization] wishes a Happy 75th Birthday to [name of person].” Is this correct? What are the rules of capitalization for “Happy Birthday”?

A. The rules are that common adjectives and nouns should be lowercased and names of holidays are uppercased. Although birthday is not the name of a holiday, people often cap “Happy Birthday” in cards and notes to make it look festive. For this reason, worrying about correctness in such contexts can be counterproductive.

Q. Dear Chicago, Many transgender authors have a “dead name”—the name the author had before undergoing the process of transitioning genders. This dead name may come with unhappy emotional associations and moreover is in any case no longer the real or current name of the author concerned. However, they may have previously published using that dead name. Citing the author with that dead name may therefore be an ethically compromised act, be hurtful, or simply be factually incorrect. However, it may also be the only name connected with the work being cited. What then, would you advise as the best practice when citing transgender authors?

A. Cite the sources using the names they were published under. That is the factually correct way to cite anything. To change a name from the published version is not sound scholarship. You don’t have to out any authors or comment on their transitions. If it’s important to link a dead name with a current name explicitly and you’re reluctant to do that, contact the author for permission and instructions on cross-referencing or glossing the names. If the author can’t be contacted, forge ahead with a clear conscience. Most writers are happy to be cited at all.

Q. In an online user documentation set, is “Appendix” or “Appendixes” the correct top-level heading? Under this heading, there will be multiple unrelated topics. Is each one an appendix? Or should I refer to the group of topics as the appendix? Since this is online, I do not intend to use “Appendix A, Appendix B,” and so on. I will use descriptive headings such as “Working with Nontemplate Databases’ Deprecated Features.”

A. You are the best one to decide. If you use “Appendixes,” give each topic its own page and list the links using the descriptive heads as page titles. If you use “Appendix,” put all your topics on a single page, with the descriptive heads serving as subheadings. If the topics are truly unrelated, or if there is an advantage to having a unique URL for each one, then the former option is probably best.

Q. We have a quotation from a book source, just two sentences, and the author has taken the first part of the quote from page 5 and the second part of the quote from page 4, and she includes a 4-dot ellipse in the middle to indicate missing text. How do we source that? Do we write “pages 4–5” in the note? Or perhaps “5, 4” to indicate that it’s out of order? I’m hoping you won’t tell me to do two different notes or rewrite . . . and that you won’t correct the run-on sentence above. (:

A. This type of quoting misrepresents the original text by changing the order of the sentences. It is a misquotation. You must either make two different quotes or rewrite! You can use the same note to source the two quotations, however, listing the page numbers in the order they are quoted from: 5, 4. (We’ll give you a pass on the run-on sentence.)

Q. Your rule that titles such as captain must be in lowercase is giving me trouble in a work about drilling oil wells. I have dutifully rendered a title such as Well Superintendent as lowercase, only to have multiple reviewers complain that they tripped over it in phrases such as “the well superintendent then called the office,” gaining a first impression that I was distinguishing the well superintendent from the ill superintendent. Also, the individual with that title is generally known as the “WS,” and it seems inconsistent to have the full title in lowercase and the abbreviation capitalized.

A. We can’t say it often enough: when a style doesn’t work for you, don’t use it! As for alleged inconsistency when full titles are lowercased and abbreviations are capitalized, that is the norm.

Q. Do you recommend using a comma to separate items in a “from X to Y to Z” format? In more complex sentences, they may aid in comprehension, e.g., “He always bought the latest technology, from a cell phone that could tell his coffeemaker to start percolating at 7am[,] to a television that could remember all his preferences[,] to a tablet computer that synced all his bookmarks with his phone and laptop.” I’m working with an author who prefers to use commas in such cases.

A. If the items are short, you probably don’t need commas—unless leaving them out would result in hilarity: “He always bought the latest technology from a computer that synced his bookmarks to a coffeemaker that delivered mochas to a television that remembered his preferences.”

Remember that overuse of the device can annoy readers. Know too that persnickety readers dislike “false ranges,” although they are an accepted figure of speech. A “true range” is something like “from A to Z”; a false range is “from cells phones to coffeemakers,” where there are no logical endpoints to form a range. In your sentence, the range could easily be edited into a simple list.

Q. Is it necessary to hyphenate “car-rental agency,” or is “car rental agency” clear enough? Also, the same question as it applies to “16th-century ornamental bridge.” Sometimes, I think writing has gone hyphen-crazy.

A. As we say at 7.85, “In general, Chicago prefers a spare hyphenation style: if no suitable example or analogy can be found either in this section or in the dictionary, hyphenate only if doing so will aid readability.” You will find at CMOS 7.85 that adjectives formed with century are hyphenated; nouns are left open; for phrases like “car rental agency,” the writer can judge.

Q. How should text message conversations be styled within a story to distinguish them from normal dialogue? I already use italics for internal thoughts, and it might be confusing to use the same technique for text messages. I also use quotes with italics when a character is thinking about another person’s dialogue. Would reading a text message be akin to that? Or can I just make up something completely different (e.g., < how r u > )?

A. Unless a designer wants to create a special typography for text messages (as is sometimes done in books for children and young adults), just use quotation marks. It’s never been considered necessary to have a separate style for phone conversations, e-mails, or other types of communication, and texts are nothing new in this regard. The context should make it clear: “how r u,” he texted; “ha ha Daddy I can’t believe you use ‘r u,’” she replied.

September Q&A

Q. During the past few years, many people have developed the habit of beginning a sentence with the word so, typically when they are responding to a question. This includes politicians, talking heads on television, and others who one might think are “learned” individuals. My view is that the use of the initial so in a sentence is both unnecessary and annoying. Any thoughts? Thank you.

A. There have always been “throat-clearing” words. Even highly intelligent professional speakers need a little thinking room to organize thoughts before speaking. So is no worse than well or um. The trick is not to be annoyed.

Q. At the beginning of each interview in my book, I use an “epigraph” from the interviewee. My publisher, citing CMOS, tells me that the epigraph, which is not signed, cannot be centered. This makes the one or two-line epigraph look like a misprint. Can you tell me what is correct in these cases? The editor has never cited a specific CMOS reference, but just tells me “That’s the way it is.”

A. The position of an epigraph is normally decided by a graphic designer as part of a coherent design for the book as a whole. Depending on the design of the rest of your book, centered epigraphs might look amateurish. Your editor is probably referring to the design specifications, and he or she may be reluctant to ask a designer to change the specs. It’s fine to express your concern and ask whether the design can be tweaked. Centering is only one of many options.

Q. I would like to know more about the use of the modals can and may. Here in Brazil it is being taught that both can be used, as in “Can/May I erase the board?” Could you please distinguish both for me?

A. Traditionally, “Can I?” means “Am I able to?” whereas “May I?” means “Do I have permission to”?

Can I lift six times my weight? Can I get to the parking lot through this alley?

May I take your plate? May I go ahead of you in line?

This use of may is dying, however. We tend to hear it from grandparents when a child asks “Can I have some candy?” and the grandparent replies “May I!” Although it’s not rude to use can when you are asking permission, it is incorrect to use may when asking whether something is possible.

Q. I am editing a document in notes/bibliography style where the author has wordy footnotes rather than straight-up citations. For example: “There are a number of excellent biographies of Jane Austen and the outlines of her life story are nearly always rehearsed in articles on her work. Jane Doe, her friend, wrote the first authoritative biography. Joe Blogg’s Her Life Story is perhaps now the definitive. And John Doe’s short biography for the Penguin Lives Series has circulated widest.” And it goes on with several more. Since these sources are all in the bibliography, do I need to include all of the publishing info in the footnotes? We’re trying to keep them short.

A. You’re in luck: shortened note citations are actually preferred when there is a bibliography. Please see CMOS 14.24.

Q. Is it necessary to have commas before and after an appositive when referring to coaches? Example: We went to see Bengals coach Paul Brown to interview one of his players.

A. Coaches receive the same treatment as everyone else. Use commas with an appositive if the expression is not restrictive—that is, if it would make sense set off by parentheses:

We went to see Bengals coach Paul Brown.

We went to see the Bengals coach (Paul Brown).

We went to see the Bengals coach, Paul Brown.

See CMOS 5.21 and 6.22–24 for more on restriction and commas.

Q. Would you share a sample of proofreading marks on a manuscript page? I refer to figure 2.6 from the manual, but it does not explain where to position marks on the line and/or in the margins.

A. Certainly. Please see figure 2.5 for a marked-up manuscript (marks in the line) and figure 2.7 for marked proofs (marks in the margins).

Q. What punctuation is required for “including but not limited to”? I see many different opinions from many different sources.

A. No punctuation is required, but commas after including and to would work just fine; they may be helpful if the phrase introduces a long or complex list. Dashes would work as well.

Q. A book title is written in italics, as is the title of a musical album. Chapter names and songs are set between quotation marks. If I’m correct, the thinking behind this is that a song is usually part of an album or a play or some sort of larger work. However, it wasn’t that long ago that a song was a stand-alone work, released as sheet music or as a single on a 78 or 45 rpm record. LPs and the concept of an album came to prominence in the 1960s. So what do we do with “The Pineapple Rag,” which was never part of an album? It was released originally as sheet music and possibly as a player piano roll. Throughout most of music history, the song was the major work. Some songs, like “Money” on Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, are integral parts of the album, while Bach’s Minuet in G has nothing to do with any larger work. Doesn’t it make more sense to italicize song titles? This also eliminates all the awkward quotes and commas when listing the songs in an album or play. Thoughts?

A. Your viewpoint is valid. Songs can fall into more than one category and may reasonably be styled in different ways. There are similar issues with maps, which are sometimes a single page in an atlas and sometimes published as an independent pamphlet or work of art. Adapt the style to suit the document. If italics work better for your songs in a given context, by all means use italics.

Q. We are using quotes from community leaders who have supported our project over the years. Last year the name of the project changed from the Trinity Uptown Project to the Panther Island Project, and we are updating all materials to reflect that. One of the quotes from a community leader (who is now deceased) uses the term “Trinity Uptown.” What would be the proper way to amend that to show that the project is now called Panther Island while the original quote used the term Trinity Uptown?

A. You can use brackets in the quote to replace the words that are now wrong: Mayor Green said, “The [Panther Island] Project is terrific.” Or you can put an editor’s comment in square brackets: Mayor Green said, “The Trinity Uptown [now Panther Island] Project is terrific.” Or you can paraphrase: Mayor Green called the project “terrific.” You can also use the original quote as it is if it’s clear elsewhere that the name has changed.

Q. When a citation falls near the bottom of the page, and there is no room for the associated footnote, should that note be placed on the following page? Thanks!

A. Not exactly. Footnotes must at least begin on the same page as their text callout; they then may carry over and finish on the next page. An application like Microsoft Word takes care of this automatically: if there isn’t room for the note to begin on the same page, it will move the line of text with the callout to the next page. In published materials, typesetters do the same thing, only they “massage” the surrounding text so there aren’t any short pages as a result.

Q. A colleague has sent me your about-face from the 15th edition regarding punctuation following italicized words, and I am speechless. I’m afraid I’ll have to look for a new authority on style, because this decision is so vile, and makes text look so absolutely horrible that I refuse to follow the change. What’s next? Putting commas and periods outside quotation marks? You may as well go that route as well; it looks better than having a roman question mark or exclamation point after an italicized word. What’s wrong with you? Why couldn’t you leave well enough alone? Absolutely irrational, horrible decision. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

A. We will give that some thought.