Second Thoughts

Q. Hi, CMOS staff. My question itself concerns two Q&A entries. In the first one, it looks as though a department name, even when part of a long corporate title, gets capped: “Mary Smith, director of Human Resources.” In the second one, though, it appears that if an otherwise would-be-capped department is a part of the title, it too gets lowercased: “Jordan Smith is assistant secretary of bureaucracy and obfuscation.” I’m editing a book that is constantly shifting its capitalization patterns for these departments (such as “chair of the Department of Physiology and Neuroscience” and “the head of the emergency department”), and I’m having a hard time determining which way to jump, because the advice in these Q&A entries seems to be contradictory. Could anyone shed some light on this for me?

A. The two answers might seem contradictory because neither mentions that departments may be referred to generically by lowercasing them. “Chair of the department of physiology and neuroscience” could be written by someone who either doesn’t know the official name of the department or knows that the official name is the Bedecker Department of Physiology and the Neurosciences.