July Q&A

Q. In dialogue, when a character says “Nam” referring to Vietnam, is an apostrophe necessary? The official name is one word, yet “Viet Nam” is more historical. That would suggest the apostrophe is not needed?

A. The spelling “Viet Nam” reflects how that country’s name is rendered in Vietnamese, which, according to the entry for Vietnam in the CIA’s World Factbook, is “Cong Hoa Xa Hoi Chu Nghia Viet Nam,” which translates to “Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” Vietnamese words are written using the Latin alphabet (usually with diacritical marks, not shown here).

Nam without an apostrophe would be correct then as a shortened form of the Vietnamese spelling of the country’s name. On the other hand, ’Nam would also be correct—as a contraction of “Vietnam.”

So you could choose one form and be consistent—or you could defer to the OED. Although two of its five quoted examples in support of its entry for the word “Nam” (which it labels colloquial) include an initial apostrophe, the headword in the OED is spelled without one.

Q. Should a local geographic place-name retain the original apostrophe, such as Lund’s Gulch in Snohomish County, Washington?

A. The official name is Lunds Gulch (no apostrophe), which can be verified by entering either form of the name into the GNIS Domestic Names Search Application available from the US Board on Geographic Names (BGN). The BGN doesn’t normally allow such apostrophes in place-names—as we noted in our answer to question 5 in “Chicago Style Workout 65: Apostrophes” at CMOS Shop Talk. (One well-known exception is Martha’s Vineyard.)

If you’re concerned about using the correct spelling, leave the apostrophe out. But if, for example, you’re writing a novel and want to follow the local custom, the apostrophe seems relatively common for that local landform—for example, on this page for “Lund’s Gulch” at the website for Lynnwood, Washington. Just be sure to alert your copyeditor to any such preference.

Q. Hello! In fiction, when describing what a sign says, should that text be in italics? Example: “The sign on the wall said NO DOGS ALLOWED.” If the answer is yes, where can I find this in CMOS? Thank you!

A. In Chicago style, italics wouldn’t normally be used for referring to the words on a sign, which can usually be presented in headline style (i.e., title case): No Dogs Allowed. If the words on the sign are in all caps, however, all caps may be retained (or, subject to a designer’s discretion, small caps): NO DOGS ALLOWED. A longer notice may be placed in quotation marks and treated as an ordinary quotation. See also CMOS 7.61.

Q. We are naming a maths series for classes 1 to 8 as ‘Revel in Maths’. The sales team is a little hesitant to accept this name as they find the word ‘revel’ associated with drinking and dancing. The general dictionary meaning of the phrasal verb ‘revel in something’ is ‘to take a great pleasure in something’. Kindly suggest an alternative.

A. As copyeditors accustomed to American English, we’re reveling in your “maths”—and in your single quotation marks (and the placement of periods relative to those marks). Seriously, though, a bit of revelry in the context of maths (or math) seems harmless to us, and unlikely to add up to anything resembling a bacchanal. If you must choose a different word, how about “Maths Is Fun”? To ensure everyone has an equally good time, including students with more of an aptitude for verbal than mathematical subjects, you could take an interdisciplinary detour into subject-verb agreement.

Q. When an abbreviation is first mentioned in a footnote, should the abbreviation be spelled out in both the footnote and at the first mention of it in the body of the text, or is spelling it out in the footnote alone sufficient?

A. It can be perfectly acceptable to introduce an abbreviation in a footnote, but if you’re worried about readers who might skip the note, rework your text to define the abbreviation there rather than in the note. You’ll want to do this especially if the meaning of the abbreviation would be difficult to figure out without an explanation—or if you’re using endnotes rather than footnotes.

For an example of how you might use a note to introduce an abbreviation for the title of a frequently cited work (preferably in a footnote rather than in an endnote), see CMOS 14.59.

Q. I’m finishing a book manuscript that includes uncommon fractions (such as 1/72) for which there aren’t single Unicode characters. How should I render my fractions? Using superscript for the numerator and subscript for the denominator results in inconsistent spacing. Even the existing Unicode fractions aren’t consistently kerned. Is there a way to have uniform-looking fractions regardless of the specific numbers? Thanks for your help.

A. You’re right that a single-character Unicode fraction like ½ (U+00BD, vulgar fraction one half) won’t match a fraction like 1/72 that relies on the forward slash (or solidus) character. One approach that can work in HTML (which is what you’re viewing right now) is to use a fraction slash (U+2044) instead of an ordinary forward slash (U+002F, the character that shares a key with the question mark on English-language QWERTY keyboards).

Unlike the forward slash, the fraction slash is designed to kern tightly to any character immediately before or after it. Best of all, the numbers before and after the slash will automatically go into fraction mode, adjusting their size and position relative to the slash (though not in all fonts):

Fraction slash, no superscripts or subscripts:
1⁄2 and 2⁄3 and 3⁄4 and 5⁄8 and 3⁄16 and 1⁄72

Forward slash (solidus), with superscripts and subscripts:
1/2 and 2/3 and 3/4 and 5/8 and 3/16 and 1/72

Both versions have a certain consistency to them, but the first set of fractions is better at matching the look of Unicode’s vulgar fractions. And according to the applicable Unicode chart (in what Unicode defines in its Help pages as an “informative note”), the fraction slash is intended “for composing arbitrary fractions”—which is the goal in this case.

But this approach won’t automatically work across applications. In a book manuscript composed in Word, you should probably use ordinary numbers with the forward slash—as in “1/72”—and ask your publisher or typesetter to format the fractions for you (e.g., using the available tools in a program like InDesign), specifying that you want them all to look like Unicode’s ½.

Q. I am citing an author who has two last names. The first is her maiden name, and the second her married name. I am aware that, ordinarily, one should go by the second surname. However, I am citing articles by this author from both before and after she was married, meaning that some of her articles only have the first last name and some have both last names. In this circumstance, what is the best way to cite her in both footnotes and in the final bibliography?

A. In the bibliography, cite the work as it was published; to help readers find both versions of the same name, you can include cross-references from one form to the other. For example, if you were to cite a book and an article by Hillary Clinton, you might include the following entries:

Under C:

Clinton, Hillary Rodham. It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.

Clinton, Hillary Rodham. See also Rodham, Hillary.

Under R:

Rodham, Hillary. “Children under the Law.” Harvard Educational Review 43, no. 4 (1973): 487–514.

Rodham, Hillary. See also Clinton, Hillary Rodham.

That’s the form for a bibliography. In a note that cites the earlier source, you could clarify for readers (parenthetically or otherwise) that it was published under the name Hillary Rodham.