Q. How should we refer to the variants of the coronavirus? I see “a new variant of the coronavirus,” and I see “a new variant of COVID-19.” Which is correct?
A. The variants are of the virus itself, not the disease it causes, so they are properly referred to as variants of SARS-CoV-2 (an abbreviation for “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2”), the virus that causes COVID-19 (which stands for “coronavirus disease 2019”). So “a new variant of the coronavirus” would be preferable to “a new variant of COVID-19.”
For summaries from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, see “Emerging SARS-CoV-2 Variants” (updated January 28, 2021), and “About Variants of the Virus that Causes COVID-19” (updated February 12, 2021). These headlines alone demonstrate proper usage.
Last April we posted a brief guide to such terms—“Styling COVID-19 and Related Terms.” At that time we weren’t yet concerned with variants, but the advice relative to nomenclature continues to apply.
Q. In a novel with a contents page, where would the list of major characters be placed? Before the contents or after?
Q. Working on a nonfiction book: Should the acknowledgments go before the bibliography or after?
A. [Editor’s note: This answer applies to both of the questions above.] The conventional order of elements in a book is determined by a combination of tradition and logic. Logic dictates that chapter 10 must follow chapter 9. Tradition is less rigid. In books published in English, any section that provides a key to navigating the text, starting with the table of contents, is traditionally placed in the front matter. (By contrast, French publishers, for example, usually put the table of contents in the back.) Items that provide commentary or supporting information generally go in the back matter. These include glossaries, endnotes, bibliographies, and the like.
A dramatis personae, which both introduces and provides a key to the people in the narrative, fits best in the front matter, either just after the table of contents, where it would be listed first, or immediately before the beginning of the text if other front matter intervenes. Acknowledgments, on the other hand, may be placed either in the front matter—as a standalone item or as part of an author’s preface—or in the back. When the acknowledgments go in the back, it works well to place them immediately after the final chapter, where they function as a sort of epilogue.
CMOS 1.4 outlines the order of elements in a book; most books won’t have all these elements, but the order applies to both fiction and non-. And it’s flexible, to a point. For example, unless you’re a practicing surrealist, you should try to keep any numbered chapters in their proper order.
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!
Q. It would be more helpful if all the questions and answers in the Chicago Style Q&A were searchable. They are so useful, but I spend a lot of time slogging through the questions and answers. (Don’t get me wrong—the browsing and slogging are without fail a pleasurable diversion.)
A. You’ll be happy to know that the Q&A is fully searchable. The results are returned on the same page as other search results. Just click on the tab that says “Chicago Style Q&A.”
Q. Dear CMOS:
Your Q&A answers are like haiku. I cannot help but admire such clear, concise, compassionate responses. Nor can I resist sending fan mail where you must expect a question.
A. You are very kind;
your email, a welcome balm.
We are happy now.
Q. I’m doing a report on typographic systems and thought it would be great to analyze the guide that everyone uses. I can’t find anything on who designed your style guide, what typeface was used, and why. Is there a resource you can point me to or provide the information?
A. Our guide is designed by the in-house design staff at the University of Chicago Press. The book’s colophon (p.  of the print edition) gives the other information you’re looking for, including information on the fonts (“Composed in Mitja Miklavčič’s FF Tisa and Hoefler & Frere-Jones’s Whitney”). You can also find the colophon at CMOS Online.
Q. Authors younger than myself have recently included the following phrase in their writing: “If you think that, you’ve got another thing coming.” I’ve tried to point out the illogic of “another thing,” but I’m met with baffled looks. An informal poll shows me that nearly everyone today believes the expression is “another thing coming.” A rock band seems to have compounded the problem by using this phrase in one of their hit songs. I’ve gotten firm resistance when suggesting that the phrase be rendered “another think coming.” At what point does a mondegreen supersede the original phrase and become the accepted norm? Is it time for me to “stet” and move on?
A. It’s not time yet. Most published books continue to use think (keep an eye on this Ngram). As long as you can google the phrase and read posts saying that think is correct, you’re on firm ground. Eventually, when online articles start using the think version as an example of pedantic nonsense, you’ll know it’s time to cave.
Q. I’m writing this with tears in my eyes, my family and I were mugged at the park of the hotel where we stayed all cash, credit card and mobile phone were stolen off us. It would take me 5 working days to access funds in my account, our flight will be leaving in less than 8-hrs but the hotel manager won’t let us leave until we settle the bills, i promise to make the refund once we get back home.I need about $1,940. You can have the cash wired via Money Gram transfer, thank God i have my passport ID as identification to pick up the money. John Brewer, 54 Boulevard Chave, 13005 Marseille, France. Let me know if you are heading to the Money Gram outlet now.
A. Don’t worry! We sent $3,000 (for good measure) to John Bowen, Montpellier, France (eek—is that right? Hope so!). Meanwhile, let us help: you have a serious problem with run-on sentences; Chicago normally spells out numbers up to and including one hundred; there is no need for a hyphen in “eight hours”; periods need a space after; and the personal pronoun “I” should be capitalized. Good thing you wrote!
Q. There is no guidance in the manual to settle a difference between editors and a graphic designer about the interior design of books. Our audience is educators. The graphic designer makes the back of the title page (with copyright and ordering information) part of the design, uses fancy font in the headers of body text, etc. The introductory chapter has a photo occupying two-thirds of the page. I contend that the visuals dominate the text and distract the reader. She contends that pages of gray print are not appealing.
A. A classic standoff! You might have to pick your battles. Argue firmly when it comes to protecting the text where the design actually causes trouble and confusion, and try to let go of the aesthetic issues for now. After all, your educators might like a jazzy treatment. Distraction isn’t always bad; it can be a little break from academic tedium.
If you work with this designer frequently, and if you feel that her design approach isn’t appropriate for your books, try to get some specific feedback on the finished product. See how book reviewers receive it, or poll some educators in exchange for free copies. If others agree that the design is inappropriate for the audience, and if you have any choice in the matter, ask for a different designer.
Q. Oh dear, is it really true that Merriam-Webster Dictionary says you can break the word recommendation after the c? I am in Cuba and don’t have M-W handy, but it seems very odd.
A. It is true. Word breaks are made according to pronunciation, not root: ge-og-ra-phy, but geo-graph-i-cal. Breaking recommendation after rec makes more sense than breaking after re, because it prompts a reader to hear the “reck” sound instead of “ree” and thus anticipate the correct word pronunciation.