Headlines and Titles of Works

Q. It has baffled me for years why the name of The New Yorker is sometimes written the New Yorker, and today I learned it is because the Chicago Manual advises it. I’m not sure why. The title of the magazine, as William Shawn used to say, is The New Yorker. To present it otherwise is to make a factual error, as it would be to print the New York Times, or the first letters of someone’s name in lowercase.

A. The books published by the University of Chicago Press regularly contain thousands of source citations. Given the impracticality of tracking down the “official” title and casing for each one, writers and editors dodge the issue by following a house style guide. The goal is to treat all titles the same way. This tactic has been so universally accepted that by now readers tend to be more outraged when two sources are treated differently than when a casing diverges from what they know to be “correct.” When you think about it, there would be no need for style manuals to rule on this issue if writers had the time and means to research whether every obscure source includes The in its title or not. And besides, not every source is as consistent or well known as the New Yorker. It’s not always possible to track down a single correct answer. Publishers can be inconsistent: even their own documents, websites, letterhead, and logos sometimes fail to agree. Long before the days of internet fact-checking, Chicago settled on lowercasing and printing in roman type the in the name of a periodical. If this means our books are filled with factual errors, they are at least serenely consistent, and few readers know exactly where the errors are.