New Questions and Answers

Q. Is login a verb or only a noun? I’m wondering because the following sentence seems wrong to me: “To login to your personal account, enter your user name and password.” Shouldn’t it say log in as two words rather than login?

A. The verb is log in; log-in or login is the noun. You can confirm this in a dictionary.

Q. Dear CMOS Q&A Guru, we are having a heck of a time ferreting out the correct verb tense to use in the second half of a sentence. There are copyeditors lobbying for each of the following conjugations:

1. At the time of distribution of this circular, this item is not yet approved.

2. At the time of distribution of this circular, this item was not yet approved.

3. At the time of distribution of this circular, this item has not yet been approved.

4. At the time of distribution of this circular, this item had not yet been approved.

Can you definitively state which is most correct and why? Please help us put this question to rest. Thank you!

A. Your question is like asking “Which is the most correct: her eyes are blue, or her eyes are green?” The sentences are all grammatically correct. The idea is to use the one that describes the situation accurately. Sentences 1 and 3 are equally correct if the time of distribution is ongoing. Both imply that the item still has a chance of being approved, without stating whether approval is likely. Sentences 2 and 4 are equally correct if the time of distribution was in the past. Both imply that the item was ultimately approved, although it’s merely an implication.

Q. Dear CMOS Staff, in a recent issue of one of our periodicals, I altered the original lineup of the names of five coauthors appearing under the title of an article and reordered them alphabetically. One of the coauthors is unhappy with this and requests, too late, to keep the original lineup, which, I assume, implicitly establishes some hierarchy in authorship. What should be my response to the unhappy coauthor?

A. Your response should be groveling apologies and a promise to issue a correction in the next issue of the journal and in the online version. Name order is important to authors in certain disciplines, as it indicates who is the lead author. It is meaningful to anyone who reads the paper or sees the citation on a résumé. Sometimes employment and promotion depend on having published a certain number of articles as the lead author. This is a truly regrettable error—the kind of error that can put the reputation of your periodical into question. Please make every effort to make amends.

Q. Please help me alphabetize Villa Grove and Village. (My son and I have a disagreement on this.)

A. You can’t go wrong. If you use word-by-word alphabetizing, Villa Grove comes first. If you use letter-by-letter alphabetizing, Village comes first. Please read CMOS 16.59–61 on alphabetizing to understand these methods.

Q. I publish memoirs. One of my authors wants to include selected blurbs and reviews as part of the front matter. I’ve seen this done in other books under the heading “Advance praise for this book” or a similar heading. My questions to CMOS are (1) is it appropriate to include blurbs and reviews as part of the front matter, and (2) if so, where should they be placed? Thanks.

A. Many publishers include such blurbs. As you say, you’ve seen them yourself. Academic/scholarly publishers rarely do this; hence CMOS is silent. At a bookstore or library you can look at the latest memoirs to learn what’s in fashion.

Q. I’m copyediting some storyboards for kiosk displays in a state park and in the description of a historical site, there’s reference to “2,500 BP.” I know what that means (now that I’ve looked it up), but why not just say “ago”? Should I assume the audience for these displays will know “BP,” or may I suggest simply saying “ago”? (I thought, “British Petroleum,” for Pete’s sake.)

A. It’s a good idea to change it, since visitors to state parks include many people who would have no idea what BP means. But don’t get your hopes up: it’s likely that the state has a style guide and that all its signs conform to that style.

Q. In this sentence, “Inside the Bellevue, Washington, laboratory, where innovations are under way . . .” it seems to me that the comma after Washington distracts from the meaning. Since “Bellevue, Washington” describes “laboratory,” could one omit the comma? Or is that a hard, fast, no-exceptions-ever rule?

A. Although we never promote our guidelines as hard, fast, no-exceptions-ever rules, the second comma is Chicago style as well as standard use outside Chicago. The idea is to treat Washington as parenthetical, which requires a pair of commas.

Q. Is there a preferred way to refer in text to a specific column or row in a table? I tend to reuse the text in the column heading or stub entry rather than a number, just because I think it’s clearer that way. For example, “See ‘Countries’ column” rather than “See column 4.” Is that wrong?

A. Not at all. Some tables have numbered rows and columns, in which case “See column 4” is a perfect way to refer to the column. But a reference to a column number when the column heading is a word or phrase would not always be clear (e.g., which is column 1: the table stub or the first column after the stub?), and in a table with many columns, the reader would be forced to count the columns to find the data.

Q. I work at a university press, and during a meeting of project editors we had a disagreement about the correct placement of the glossary. CMOS recommends that the glossary appear between the notes and bibliography. Although we’ll accept this as your final answer, our question is why? Thank you!

A. Like many of the rules in CMOS, this one was begotten lo those many years ago. In an early edition of the manual, the glossary was placed just so, and then that edition begat the next. The next edition begat the following one, and the following one begat the one after, and so on down unto these very days. Obviously, someone at the dawn of time thought it was a good idea, and no one in all the generations since has found reason to mess with it. And so that is why.

July Q&A

Q. I wrote a novel, and in the story there’s a fictitious newspaper that I made up. The Gazette. Repeat, not a real newspaper. When a friend reviewed the novel, she said I should italicize it, like real newspapers. Should I?

A. Yes, the fake newspaper should be italic. The world you are creating in your novel is supposed to seem real. You don’t want to pull readers out of that world by labeling some items in it fake.

Q. If you make a statement and footnote it to cite a source, does the scope of the source confine your statement? For example, if I said that a particular health program was successful and footnoted the statement to a source that discussed the program in one country or region, does that confine my statement of success to that country/region? I would appreciate some clarification, thank you.

A. A note need not limit what you write in your paper—you can write anything you want. But if you make a statement that is not supported by your note, you will need another note to support the part that lacks evidence. There are exceptions: opinions and common knowledge don’t require support in notes.

Q. I am editing a paper in which the bibliography has a few entries with many coauthors—e.g., over fifty. The author has listed all the names. Surely, when the list of authors goes beyond twenty-five lines—in one case, over a page—I can use et al.? If that’s the case, how many do I list before using et al.? Thanks!

A. If you are using notes-bibliography documentation, please see CMOS 14.76: “For works with more than ten authors—more common in the natural sciences—Chicago recommends the policy followed by the American Naturalist (see bibliog. 5): only the first seven should be listed in the bibliography, followed by et al. (Where space is limited, the policy of the American Medical Association may be followed: up to six authors’ names are listed; if there are more than six, only the first three are listed, followed by et al.).” If you are using author-date documentation, list all the authors (CMOS 15.9).

Q. What is the correct way to punctuate the following sentence: “Let’s face it, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.” Is it correct to use the comma even though “Let’s face it” is an independent clause?

A. Your sentence is an example of a comma splice. Some readers will be distracted by it; some will consider it incorrect; a few will take it as one more sign that civilization is coming to an end. However, as Bryan Garner writes in Garner's Modern American Usage: “Most usage authorities accept comma splices when (1) the clauses are short and closely related, (2) there is no danger of a miscue, and (3) the context is informal.” That said, a dash or colon in place of the comma in your sentence would be uncontroversial.

Q. How do you handle real product names like Head & Shoulders Shampoo or Gorton’s of Gloucester? Do you italicize or put quotes around them, or just write them the way they are used on the product?

A. The way you’ve written them is correct.

Q. We use postdoctoral as one word. Should we then also use postbaccalaureate as one word for consistency, even though spell check wants a hyphen or space? Both are being used as adjectives.

A. Unless your spelling checker follows the same style manual you do, you should feel free to disregard it! Chicago closes up words with the prefix post-, as does Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary.

Q. How do you determine if it is “In the 1970s bad things happened” or “In the 1970s, bad things happened”? Comma or no comma? Why?

A. You can determine it by consulting a style manual like CMOS. You can go to the table of contents and look for the chapter on punctuation (chapter 6), then scan down the list of topics until you find a section on commas. Within that section you can look for the paragraph that addresses your issue: 6.36, “Commas with introductory adverbial phrases.” There you can read that “an introductory adverbial phrase is often set off by a comma but need not be unless misreading is likely. Shorter adverbial phrases are less likely to merit a comma than longer ones.” You can decide that your phrase does not need to be set off by a comma. Why? Because misreading without the comma is unlikely.

Q. Dear Sir or Madam, I can’t understand the meaning of documentation at 2.54. Documentation consists of notes, bibliographies, or reference lists, I think.

A. You are right, but the word documentation has a more general meaning as well. At 2.54 it is referring to the documents that accompany a manuscript that is going to be published—such as editorial meeting minutes, notes from the author, a file of permissions and credits, the publishing contract, or anything else that might contain information or instructions helpful to the editor.

Q. What is the past tense for text? I use text as in “I text her yesterday, and she text me back.” I read/hear people say texted: “I texted her yesterday, and she texted me back.” Which is more correct?

A. Texted is correct. Adding ed is the standard way to make a verb past tense, so with a new verb like text, that’s the default. With increased usage, a nonstandard past tense could eventually establish itself, but until then, use the standard verb form.

Q. Is the following differentiation for the plural versus singular of century correct?

Explores the relationship between China and the West from the seventeenth through the early twentieth century.

Surveys the architecture of Italy in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries.

A. Yes. When you have a series of centuries joined by and, they are plural. When you have a range of centuries (from/to or from/through), use the singular—from the seventeenth [century] to the twentieth century.

Q. Are terms of endearment capped when used as a form of address, for example, in “Bring me my shoes, Precious” or “Turn off the TV, Darling”? I believe this used to be a rule, but with the trend toward “down” styling, most editors perhaps have thrown it out.

A. Chicago’s preferred style has always been to lowercase pet names, but you can’t go wrong unless you’re inconsistent, since the issue is guided by preference rather than rule. Please see section 8.39 of the 15th edition. (The issue is not addressed in the 16th.)

Q. I enjoy reading the monthly Q&A. The answers often seem to tell the questioners to use some common sense, that there isn’t one right answer necessarily for every situation, and that comprehensibility trumps consistency and being a stickler. Certainly, though, there are times when there is a right answer. Do you have a philosophy or recommendations for how to distinguish those situations from the rest?

A. We’re working on an app for that; meanwhile, you’ll have to trust your judgment.