March Q&A

Q. If a word is not capitalized in the dictionary but is capitalized in the author’s book manuscript, should I capitalize or not? The specific word in question is “cosmos.” Thanks.

A. You might start by asking if the author has any objection to lowercase, preferably before editing has begun. Maybe point out that words and phrases for vast, seemingly limitless spaces—from “cosmos” and “universe” to “nature” and “world”—are generally lowercase, so readers might be puzzled by an initial capital. Even “internet,” once almost always spelled with a capital I, now gets a lowercase i in CMOS and other stylebooks—not a demotion but rather a recognition of its stature as a virtual universe. If the author nonetheless insists, don’t worry. Each book is a world unto itself, and in the end a consistent approach is what matters most.

Q. How should we refer to the variants of the coronavirus? I see “a new variant of the coronavirus,” and I see “a new variant of COVID-19.” Which is correct?

A. The variants are of the virus itself, not the disease it causes, so they are properly referred to as variants of SARS-CoV-2 (an abbreviation for “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2”), the virus that causes COVID-19 (which stands for “coronavirus disease 2019”). So “a new variant of the coronavirus” would be preferable to “a new variant of COVID-19.”

For summaries from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, see “Emerging SARS-CoV-2 Variants” (updated January 28, 2021), and “About Variants of the Virus that Causes COVID-19” (updated February 12, 2021). These headlines alone demonstrate proper usage.

Last April we posted a brief guide to such terms—“Styling COVID-19 and Related Terms.” At that time we weren’t yet concerned with variants, but the advice relative to nomenclature continues to apply.

Q. When citing a lengthy web page without page numbers in a footnote, other than listing the paragraph number or a section title, is there another way to indicate where on the page a quote is being used?

A. One approach would be to add a portion of the quoted text to a note where a page number or other locator would usually go. For example, let’s quote and cite the following sentence from a post on CMOS Shop Talk: “A serif is a small projecting line or wedge on the main stroke of a letter.”1

1. “Key Terms Every Editor Should Know,” CMOS Shop Talk, November 10, 2020, at “A serif is . . . ,” https://​cmosshoptalk​.com​/2020​/11​/10​/key-terms-every-editor-should-know/.

Users who follow the link should be able to use the Find feature in any browser to get to the cited text (i.e., by searching for the words before the ellipsis). For this example, we’ve used the first three words rather than the whole sentence, after testing to make sure those three words are unique on that page.

But in a case like that—where you’re citing the source of a direct quotation presented verbatim in your own text—repeating a snippet of that text in the note as shown above would be overkill. If, on the other hand, your note doesn’t refer to a direct quote, this strategy could work well, particularly when you need to cite a page with lots of text but no paragraph numbers or section titles.

A promising alternative solution to the problem of getting readers to the right place in an unpaginated document is Text Fragments, introduced for Google’s Chrome browser in 2020. This feature allows you to copy a snippet of text from a web page and append it to the end of that page’s URL. This enhanced URL is designed to return the same page but scrolled to the text fragment (highlighted in yellow). For example, if you paste “A serif is a small projecting line or wedge on the main stroke of a letter” to the end of the URL in the example above (after “#:~:text=”), you’ll get the following link:


There are, however, two problems with this approach: (1) it’s not a good option when you need to express a URL as text rather than as an embedded link (mostly because spaces in URLs are automatically replaced with “%20”), and (2) as of March 2021, this feature is supported only in Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge. Still, it’s a handy tool to keep in mind for uses other than source citation.

Q. CMOS 8.61 says that words derived from proper nouns like “champagne” are often lowercased when used with a nonliteral meaning. What does “nonliteral” mean when it comes to sparkling wine?

A. The word “champagne” with a lowercase c refers to sparkling wine of any kind, a generic use that is widely accepted; “Champagne” with a capital C, on the other hand, is a proper noun. It literally refers to a specific region in France known for its sparkling wine—or, thanks to industry advocacy, to sparkling wine from that region.

Lowercase “champagne” might be appropriate in a novel or a story—or any casual prose—when the origin of the sparkling wine is unknown or unimportant. If, however, you are writing something like a research paper or a press release, you will want to maintain a clear distinction: write “Champagne” with a capital C to refer to a sparkling wine that it is literally a product of Champagne but “sparkling wine” when it is not (or not necessarily).

The word “Champagne” is closely guarded, but the strictures apply mainly to how the industry labels and markets its products. “Scotch whisky” is similarly protected, and in industry usage, it gets a capital W to go with its capital S. Other such terms tend to be looser—or more general. One example is “swiss cheese”—in which the lowercase s suggests the stuff with the holes, not cheese that’s literally from Switzerland (which might be any number of cheeses, with or without holes).

Think of Chicago style as giving you the option of choosing lowercase for generic, nonliteral mentions. This in itself can be a mark of distinction—not of exclusivity, but of widespread acceptance. And in the case of champagne, it’s a way to keep your options open.

Q. Hi, when a person has a hyphenated first name, such as Zheng-Jun Gao, how would you style their first initials? Would it be “Z.-J. Gao” or “Z. J. Gao”? Thank you.

A. If you’re following Chicago style, keep the hyphen: “Z.-J. Gao” or, inverted (as in a reference list or index), “Gao, Z.-J.” If you’re writing for the sciences, where initials for given names are more common, and where periods and spaces are often omitted from initials, you could follow the lead of the National Library of Medicine, as detailed in Citing Medicine: The NLM Style Guide for Authors, Editors, and Publishers, 2nd ed. According to that guide, hyphens in given names are disregarded when forming initials: “ZJ Gao” or, inverted, “Gao ZJ” (without a comma).

Q. If I have used a machine translator (e.g., DeepL) in a paper, must I give credit to the machine translator? What if the translation needs to be edited?

A. Yes, you generally should give credit to a translator, whether human or machine. This could be done either in the acknowledgments or, for example, in a “Note on Translations” at the beginning of the book. But the easiest option is to footnote the first instance. For example,

1. Except where noted, this and other translations from the original Portuguese into English were generated by DeepL and edited by the author.

Remember also to credit yourself for any translations that you do without help (e.g., “my translation”; see CMOS 11.14).

Q. What is the proper spacing BETWEEN paragraphs? Is it the “space” connected with the font size?

A. In documents published in print, there is usually no extra space between paragraphs. So the space between the last line of one paragraph and the beginning of the next is exactly the same as the space between any two lines of text within a paragraph. For single-spacing this is typically a couple of points more than the font size. New paragraphs are identified by a first-line indent alone.

In documents published online, where space isn’t limited by page size and paper costs, the more common approach (and the typical default in HTML) is to allow the equivalent of a blank line (or a bit less than that) between paragraphs but no first-line indent. If you’re preparing a manuscript for publication or for a class paper, paragraph indents are still the norm; if you use them, then you can set extra space between paragraphs to zero. For more on this topic, see our Shop Talk post on paragraphing in manuscripts; if you’re a student, be sure to check out our paper-formatting Tip Sheets.