Usage and Grammar

Q. I have a friend who insists the use of the word “littler” is acceptable because it’s in the dictionary. I searched through CMOS but found no mention. What is your position on the use of this word?

A. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you see it), CMOS does not have enough space to state a position on every word, even if we had one. We rely on dictionaries and our ears to decide what works well in scholarly prose. We would not, however, agree that a word’s presence in a dictionary makes it suitable for use on all occasions—many words in Merriam-Webster are best used only by poets or toddlers. “Littler” might not be quite that, but it does beg for editorial discretion.