August Q&A

Q. I’ve noticed that print and e-book versions of the same title sometimes have different dates of publication; how should this be dealt with in bibliographic entries? If I were quoting from such a work, I would provide the publication date of whichever version, print or digital, I had consulted, but what about a reference that’s intended only to point the reader toward a certain resource (“for more on this topic, see Smith 2018”)? In that case, should preference be given to the earlier date over the later? To the print version over the digital?

A. Cite the year of whichever edition you choose to recommend. For e-books, include the format (Kindle, iBooks, etc.). You can see examples in our Quick Citation Guide, under “E-book > Reference-List Entries.”

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. I am working on a research paper for an upper-level anthropology class and could not find the correct method for citing a quote that contains several in-text citations. How do I address the in-text citations?

A. Include them in your quotation. Please see CMOS 13.7: “Parenthetical text references in the original should be retained.”

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.

Q. I am a copyeditor for a tiny scientific journal. I was given the following sentence: It is intriguing to note that BE has 18- to 33-fold the analgesic potency of morphine. I felt that this was incorrect and should have been changed to “18 to 33 times the analgesic potency” or “an 18- to 33-fold greater analgesic potency.” My editor overruled me by telling me that in scientific writing this is acceptable. I believe he is being confused by the fact that dictionaries give times as the definition of -fold (the true meaning of -fold is quite debatable, but that is not my question). I can’t seem to find a good reference for correct usage in this case. 

A. Careful writers and editors avoid the use of -fold precisely for this reason: it’s ambiguous. From Scientific Style and Format (12.3.3, “-Fold, Factor, and Times”):

the volume increase was 3-fold [was the final volume 3 times as high as the initial volume, or was the size of the increase 3 times the initial value?]

the final volume was 3 times the initial volume
the final volume was 300% of the initial volume
the final volume was 3 times the initial volume of 10 mL

Q. I’ve been having a discussion about the use of the term “water-resistant.” Chicago style dictates the use of a hyphen in such a compound only when it precedes a noun. However, the term is recognized by the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

A. You’re lucky—you can’t go wrong! If you value consistency, make a note of which one you choose. Keep in mind that when such adjectival compounds follow the noun they modify, hyphenation is usually unnecessary, even for those that are hyphenated in Webster’s (such as well-read or ill-humored).

Q. I am editing a short-story anthology. One of the submissions contains this phrase: “barb wire fence.” My instinct tells me that a hyphen is needed between the first two words, yet I cannot locate an example from a reliable source. What do you recommend, please?

A. lists barbwire as one word. (Barbed wire is the main entry there; barbed-wire fence is an alternative to barbwire fence.)

Q. Dear CMOS, I’m having a disagreement with an editor about hyphenation in one of my soon-to-be-published short stories. I hate the idea of one of my stories seeing print with a grammatical error. I’m in desperate need of an official CMOS ruling, just to make sure we get this right! The section in question is as follows: “Most people only know the one reality they’ve lived. You’re getting front-row seats to three more.” Should “front-row seats” be hyphenated in this instance?

A. Yes. Please see CMOS 7.85:

When compound modifiers (also called phrasal adjectives) such as high-profile or book-length precede a noun, hyphenation usually lends clarity. With the exception of proper nouns (such as United States) and compounds formed by an adverb ending in ly plus an adjective (see 7.86), it is never incorrect to hyphenate adjectival compounds before a noun. When such compounds follow the noun they modify, hyphenation is usually unnecessary, even for adjectival compounds that are hyphenated in Webster’s (such as well-read or ill-humored).

Thus “seats in the front row” but “front-row seats.”

Q. Throughout CMOS, as well as in Webster’s, I see that some guidelines or spellings apply to “formal” writing and others to “informal” writing. How do you define formal and informal writing?

A. A writer’s choices determine whether a document is formal or informal. The use of slang, abbreviations, nonstandard grammar, lots of exclamation points, and a chatty tone are marks of informality. Passive verbs, big words, antiquated expressions, and correct or even stilted grammar signal formality. Most of us are comfortable somewhere in between. Some examples:

  • Usually formal: dissertations, grant proposals, term papers, legal documents, job applications, financial reports, wedding invitations
  • Usually informal: texts, grocery lists, personal letters and emails, personal blog posts
  • Formal or informal: books, newspaper articles, professional blog posts, work emails and letters, advertisements

Q. Does CMOS have an official position on hyphenating “the then” when used to indicate something or someone’s former status?

A. Since then is just an adjective like any other adjective, there’s no need for a hyphen.

  • the current secretary of state
  • the previous secretary of state
  • the then secretary of state

Q. How would you treat “over apologize” in this sentence? “Be careful not to over apologize.”

A. Over is a prefix in that case, so close it up: “Be careful not to overapologize.” Please see CMOS 7.89, section 4 (“Words Formed with Prefixes”), under the prefix over.

Q. When referencing government reports with no author, is the author the country or the department? I have always used the department; however, our university style guide based on CMOS says to use the country. For example, Australia, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry . . . 

A. It’s not a good idea to make a hard-and-fast rule, because your decision should fit your document. If your work is purely about Australia and no other country, it would be more useful to readers to begin with the department than to have dozens of entries beginning with Australia. If your work is more global in nature, however, readers might appreciate being able to locate the Australia references in a batch.

Q. From your July Q&A: “Comprehensive tip sheets for setting up a paper are available for free at the website.” Really? “For free”? Free here is an adverb modifying the verbal phrase “are available,” not a noun, and cannot be the object of the preposition for.

A. Uh-oh. Somebody had better tell Merriam-Webster!