December Q&A

Q. Dear CMOS team—a book I am working on as an editor is called (disguised) Sandwich: Imagine the Recipe. Write It Down. Watch It Happen. Are the periods in the subtitle appropriate, or are commas preferred? The periods are driving me crazy, so it would be nice if there were a Chicago rule to say yea or nay.

A. The periods are certainly awkward when it comes to putting that title into a sentence. But for better or for worse, they’re part of the title’s personality, so it’s probably best to leave them as they are. If the title appears midsentence, omit the final period or change it to a comma, depending on the syntax. Try to think of the whole thing as a unit and just avert your eyes.

Q. What font does Chicago require? I thought it was Times New Roman, but perhaps Arial is also okay?

A. CMOS does not state a preference, but for Chicago-style student papers, please see Turabian Tip Sheet 6 (Main Text), which suggests 12 pt. Times New Roman or Calibri or 11 pt. Arial (based on Kate Turabian’s Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 9th edition, which is compatible with The Chicago Manual of Style).

Q. I am preparing an online archive. Many of the items are audio or video recordings. I’ve fruitlessly searched CMOS for the proper way to indicate the total time of a recording—for example, thirty-five minutes and thirty-three seconds. 35 min. 33 sec.? 35m:33s?

A. There are various accepted stylings. At CMOS 14.264 (“Recorded Readings, Lectures, Audiobooks, and the Like”) one example shows the length of a reel-to-reel tape as 1:12:49, and another shows the length of an audiobook as 13 hr., 6 min. An example at CMOS 9.40 (“ISO Style for Time of Day”) suggests the option of putting a zero in front of a single-digit measure of time: 09:27:08.6 = 27 minutes, 8.6 seconds after 9:00 a.m. Based on all these examples, you could use either 00:35:33 (to clarify that it’s 35 minutes, not 35 hours) or 35 min., 33 sec.

Q. Section 11.9 of CMOS (17th ed.) states, “When the title of a work in another language is mentioned in text, an English gloss may follow in parentheses,” and “if the translation has not been published, the English should be capitalized sentence-style . . . and should appear neither in italics nor within quotation marks.” In texts that discuss in detail such a work (say, a literary analysis of a Chinese-language novel for a predominantly English-speaking readership) and where the English gloss is justifiably preferred to the original, should that gloss stay in roman, capitalized sentence-style throughout, or may it carry the features of a published translation (italics or quote marks) for ease of presentation?

A. Yes, in a case like that it makes sense to use italics (or whatever) for the title. You might introduce the style explicitly to ward off the copyeditor—for example: “In the Chinese novel [Chinese characters or transliteration] (hereafter referred to as Plum Tree at Sunset) . . .”

Q. What’s your current recommendation on ending a sentence with a preposition? Current example: “[Nurses bound the] wounds of the men they were taking care of.”

A. Our current recommendation has been current since 1906: there is no rule against ending a sentence with a preposition. Please see CMOS 5.180: “The traditional caveat of yesteryear against ending sentences or clauses with prepositions is an unnecessary and pedantic restriction. And it is wrong.”

Q. In the sentence “Cane Ridge post office in Van Buren County, Tennessee, was opened in March 1866,” the town name is Cane Ridge and it has a post office. Would you capitalize “Post Office” or leave it lowercase?

A. In your sentence the phrase “Cane Ridge Post Office” looks like a title that should be capped, like Cane Ridge High School. If you had written “The Cane Ridge post office,” then “post office” might be read as a generic and lowercased in the way that you would lowercase “the Cane Ridge gas station” or “the Cane Ridge bus stop.”

Q. Hello. I am writing an essay for history in Chicago style, and when I state a fact I have been putting the number of the citation in parentheses after I have stated it. Is this correct? Example: Abe Lincoln became president in 1861. (5) Or do I need to put it as an exponent following the text?

A. Some citation systems do use parentheses like that to refer to a numbered list of sources, but Chicago style is to use a superscript number that refers to an endnote or footnote containing a citation. Here’s the Turabian Tip Sheet that shows how it looks with footnotes. Please see the “For Students” page at CMOS Shop Talk for answers to many questions on writing a paper and citing sources (scroll to “Chicago Style Basics”). 

Q. When was the Chicago style created? Thanks.

A. Thank you for your interest in Chicago style! At CMOS Online you can read about its history since the university’s founding in 1891 and the printing of the first edition of CMOS in 1906.

Q. I’m a technical editor at an architectural and engineering firm and am working with a project manager (an architect) on a long document with 100+ tables. He insists on putting the table title below the table (below the table notes, which he wants to enclose in a box). He says he doesn’t like how the title above the table looks. CMOS 3.54 refers to “the title, which appears above the table,” but doesn’t give the reason for the placement. I have told the project manager that the overwhelming convention is to put the title above the table, have cited published guidance (e.g., CMOS) to put it above, and have told him that the likely reason is that tables are most often read from top to bottom, but he won’t budge. What is the reason CMOS recommends putting the table title above the table? Maybe he would consider your rationale.

A. Titles of tables are put at the top for the same reason chapter titles and subheadings precede their content: to announce what’s coming. What’s more, the column heads of a table often make sense only when combined with information that’s provided in the title, such as “in dollars per year” or “in miles per gallon.” Hiding that information at the bottom of the table might necessitate adding it to each column head, where space is limited. While there may be instances where a table title at the bottom works just fine (especially if the graphic design emphasizes the title), in general it’s more helpful at the top.

Q. Choosing between in or at: When referring to a specific area on a slide presentation, would you say “in the top right-hand corner” or “at the top right-hand corner”? Are there rules that help one determine when to use in or at?

A. Prepositions are tricky! Even fluent English speakers can disagree on which one to use. CMOS 5.195 presents a list of words that usually go with certain prepositions, but often (as in your sentence) more than one works well. When you’re stuck, look up the preposition in a dictionary and find an example phrase or sentence that’s similar to the one you’re puzzling over.

Q. I’m having a lively debate on Facebook with some friends about how the abbreviation CMOS is pronounced by the fine folks at UCP. Do y’all tend to say “see-moce” or “see-moze” or “see-moss” or “see-mahs”? Thanks!

A. In an in-house poll of editors, marketers, and production staff, “SEE-moss” won by a landslide, followed in an even split by “SEE-mose” and “poTAHto.”