September Q&A

Q. Does CMOS prefer a slash or parentheses to denote an alternative? For example, “on/off” vs. “on (off).”

A. Parentheses and slashes can both denote alternatives, but the use of parentheses in that role is limited. For most alternatives, the slash is best. The form “on/off” means either “on” or “off.”

The form “on (off),” on the other hand, would tend to suggest (illogically) that “on” is equivalent to (rather than an alternative for) “off.” To fix that, you’d need to add an “or”: “on (or off).”

But parentheses can be useful for alternative word endings. For example, instead of “return your manuscript to the author or authors” or “author/​authors,” a more concise form is “return your manuscript to the author(s).”

That works best with simple s or es plural endings, in which the parentheses show a letter or letters that would be added to the term. Anything more than that—e.g., “warranty(ies),” in which “ies” is an alternative to “y”—though useful in a pinch, can quickly start to become unclear.

Q. I’m editing a bibliography that has many URLs that end in a slash. Should these be deleted?

A. A URL copied out of a browser’s address bar and pasted into a document will often include a trailing slash. For example, if you call up the home page of the New York Times and copy its address from Chrome, Edge, or Firefox, you’ll get this: That slash will appear in the pasted result even if it isn’t there in the address bar.

You don’t need to keep the slash at the end of the URL for the Times; trailing slashes can generally be omitted from domain-level URLs like that one. But deleting a bunch of slashes from a long reference list would risk introducing errors—and any URL that goes deeper than a home page would need to be double-checked without a final slash to make sure it still works that way.

So the safest approach is to leave them alone (assuming they work).

By the same token, there’s usually no need to add a slash to a URL that doesn’t already end in one. Especially if the URL points to a specific file, you’re likely to break the link if you modify it in any way.

Q. Working on software that has an e-shop, I see a very different use of the word “checkout” vs. “check out.” Should it be “checkout now” or “check out now”?

A. A good dictionary will tell you that it’s “checkout” (one word) as a noun (often used attributively, as in “checkout line”) and “check out” (two words) as a verb. So it should be “check out now.” Or you could save yourself the editorial headaches and use “go to checkout” (or, as Amazon has it, “proceed to checkout”) rather than “check out now.”

Q. Hello! I understand that hyphens work like “treatment-naive patients” but “patients are treatment naive.” However, what would you recommend if the modifier is used alone—e.g., in a graph key? Hyphen or open? Should the key be “Treatment-naive” and “Previously treated,” or “Treatment naive” and “Previously treated”? Thank you!

A. Good question! Either approach would work, but we would lean slightly toward retaining the hyphen. The words “Treatment naive” as a standalone label lack the immediate context a sentence provides, making them prone to a momentary misreading without a hyphen (as they might be before a noun).

But we’d leave “Previously treated” alone as you’ve done; that term, thanks to that ly ending, wouldn’t be hyphenated in any context.

Q. Debating with an editor over capitalization of the word bicentennial. When it’s an adjective (“bicentennial year”), I agree that no cap is needed, but I contend that when it’s a noun (“the Bicentennial”), a cap is needed. Agree—or not?

A. The noun bicentennial, like anniversary or birthday or even golden jubilee, is normally lowercased. But if you’re referring to a specific bicentennial, like the one the United States celebrated in 1976—“the Bicentennial”—a capital B might be warranted. Or so it seems in hindsight.

According to a Google Ngram comparison of the lowercase b and capital B forms of the word, there have been three notable jumps for “Bicentennial” in books published in English since 1900:

The two biggest bumps align with major bicentennials in the US (1976) and France (1989). The third peak—ca. 1932—corresponds to the bicentennial of George Washington’s birthday. (The ngram doesn’t tell you any of this—and there are other possibilities—but it’s fun to guess.)

In a publication that discusses one of the national bicentennials, a capital B would make sense. But note that both nouns and adjectives would qualify: the US Bicentennial, the Bicentennial celebrations in the US.

Q. In author-date, how does one handle multiple forthcoming works by a single author? Does one use forthcominga, forthcomingb, etc.? Or maybe with a hyphen: forthcoming-a, forthcoming-b?

A. We like your second suggestion:

Smith, Jarell. Forthcoming-a. Title of First Work. City: Publisher.

Smith, Jarell. Forthcoming-b. Title of Second Work. City: Publisher.

These would then be cited in the text as (Smith, forthcoming-a) and (Smith, forthcoming-b). Normally there’s no comma between the author’s name and the date of publication in Chicago style—(Smith 2022a)—but we do make an exception in this case (as noted in CMOS 15.45).

Q. When a journal changes its name, should I use the name of the journal when the article was published or the current name when citing an article contained in the journal?

A. Use the name of the journal when the article was published. For example,

Todd, Alexander. “Nucleic Acids and Their Role in Future Chemotherapy of Tumours and Virus Diseases.” British Medical Journal 2, no. 5151 (1959): 517–22.

If you want to signal to readers that the journal now uses a different name, mention that fact in your text or in a note—or add a bracketed clarification to your citation as follows:

Todd, Alexander. “Nucleic Acids and Their Role in Future Chemotherapy of Tumours and Virus Diseases.” British Medical Journal [now BMJ] 2, no. 5151 (1959): 517–22.