Q. Which is correct: hooves or hoofs? I can’t find a definitive answer.
A. The most common plural form of the noun hoof in American English is hooves. In British English, it’s hoofs. You can glean this information from the entries for hoof at Merriam-Webster.com (which records common American usage) and in the OED (which reflects British usage).
Q. “Flyer” vs. “flier.” Please take a stand. Thanks!
A. For anyone or anything that flies, use flier. For the advertising circular, which isn’t usually circular (the name is related to circulation), use flyer.
Q. Hi! Hope you all are well. Please help me. I can’t find an answer anywhere. Does CMOS recommend “Gen Zers” or “Gen Zs”?
A. Merriam-Webster includes an entry for “Gen Z” as a noun. Under “Other Words from Gen Z,” the entry lists “Gen Zer or Gen-Zer” and “Gen Zers or Gen-Zers” (“or” means the hyphenated variants are equally common, but in such cases Chicago normally advises choosing the first-listed form). You won’t, however, find “Gen Zs”—which you can therefore assume occurs only as the plural form of “Gen Z,” as in more than one Generation Z (see CMOS 7.15 for styling the plurals of letters). For members of Generation Z, then, write “Gen Zers.” Ditto for their predecessors: “Gen Yers” and “Gen Xers.”
Q. According to CMOS, which is the correct use . . . “OK” or “okay”? I’m having difficulty finding the answer to what I hope is an easy question. Thank you!
A. “OK” and “okay” are informal, so even though we might normally choose the first-listed “OK” in Merriam-Webster (rather than its equal variant “okay”), it doesn’t really matter which form of this handy nineteenth-century abbreviation you prefer. Both appear in CMOS 17, all but once as “OK” in examples that feature informal prose (and not counting its appearance as an abbreviation for Oklahoma). The one time the term appears in our own explanatory text, we chose “okay,” which looks more like a real word (see CMOS 14.5, first bullet point). In texts or email, you’ll face a different set of choices that are beyond the scope of CMOS. But if you can somehow manage to strike a balance between personal preference, on the one hand, and considerations related to context, desired tone, audience, and the changing fashions of internet language, on the other, you should be just fine (as in A-OK). Okeydoke?
Q. What is the proper way to write the commonly used speech abbreviation “twenty-four seven” (meaning 24 hours a day, 7 days a week)? Would one write “24-7” or “24/7” or something else?
A. All of the above. According to Merriam-Webster, the expression is spelled out “twenty-four seven” and can be abbreviated either “24-7” or “24/7” (the latter two are equal variants, which M-W separates by “or”). The entries for the spelled-out and abbreviated forms are separate in M-W, so you’ll have to make a choice. If you are spelling out numbers zero through one hundred (per CMOS 9.2), opt for “twenty-four seven”; if you’re spelling out only single-digit numbers (per CMOS 9.3), choose the first-listed abbreviation in M-W and go with that. There’s no harm, of course, in opting for the second-listed equal variant if that’s what you prefer, but whatever you do, be consistent—twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
Q. Would you ever use “styleguide” as a single word?
A. Probably only in a hashtag—#StyleGuide or #styleguide (hashtags aren’t case sensitive, and Chicago style allows for either). Guide, unlike book, doesn’t tend to form one word unless it’s at the beginning. So style guide but stylebook and guidebook. For answers to questions like this one, Merriam-Webster is our go-to guide.
Q. I wanted to ask if the word golly is used in the Chicago style guide. Thank you.
A. Yes, it is. Please see CMOS 5.216 (“Exclamations”). (Tip: You can find a word in CMOS by typing it into the search box.)
Q. In the early 1930s, my grandmother won a citywide crossword puzzle contest in New York City, earning the $1,000 prize at a time when money was tight. The winning word was qobar, a word that no longer appears in even unabridged dictionaries. Once a word is a word, isn’t it always a word?
A. Yes. But so far, there has never been a dictionary that listed all the words. There are too many words! One of the standards that lexicographers use when deciding which words to delete to make way for new ones is whether a word is actually used very often in a meaningful way. At least one online dictionary, Wordnik, has a goal of listing all the words available. Qobar isn’t listed there yet—maybe you should send it!
Q. I’ve always followed this advice in Chicago: “If, as occasionally happens, the Collegiate disagrees with the Third International, the Collegiate (or its online counterpart) should be followed, since it represents newer lexical research.” We subscribe to the online Unabridged (which also includes the Collegiate), and lately this advice no longer seems to apply consistently. Merriam-Webster seems to be updating entries in the Unabridged and leaving the Collegiate with the older version. For example, the Unabridged has life-span while the Collegiate has life span. Typically, the hyphenated version would be the more up to date.
A. It’s true—the lexicographers at M-W can’t be everywhere at once, which leaves discrepancies between their various versions. But the kinds of changes you’re talking about are minor. It’s not as though life span is now so grossly incorrect that using it would invite viral shaming on Twitter. We hyphenate a compound to make it easier to read or to prevent misreading. If you use common sense and keep a style sheet, you needn’t worry about whether you’re up to the minute with M-W.
Q. Is impactful a word and can it be used in place of influential?
A. Absolutely. Impactful is a word, and it is often used in place of influential. But like irregardless, ain’t, and alright (all of which are words in the dictionary), impactful is frowned upon as nonstandard English. Please see CMOS 5.250, under impact; impactful: “Avoid impactful, which is jargon (replacements include influential and powerful).”