June Q&A

Q. Permission forms sometimes use ALL CAPS for authors, titles, or copyright holders—for example, “All Rights Controlled and Administered by [MUSIC PUBLISHER].” Must a credit line copy that style? Changing to italic title capitalization seems acceptable where all caps were used in place of italics in a title, but what about names?

A. There is no meaningful difference between “MUSIC PUBLISHER” and “Music Publisher” in a published credit line, so no, you are not obligated to apply all caps to a name that does not ordinarily require such treatment. Nor are you obligated to use headline-style capitalization for the rest of the statement, which is technically a sentence. So, to follow Chicago, you would style your example as follows: “All rights controlled and administered by Music Publisher.” But be sure to retain all caps for names (or elements thereof) that are always so styled: “EMI Blackwood Music Inc.” If you are unsure of the correct capitalization for a given entity, follow the style in the rightsholder’s permission form, all caps or not.

Q. Hi. My question has to do with whether a new entry in the 17th edition was accidental or deliberate. Paragraph 8.185 includes this sentence: “ ‘Aladdin’ is arguably the most well-known tale in A Thousand and One Nights.” I’m curious to know if this sentence simply slipped through or if Chicago defends the use of “most well-known”? I ask because Philip Corbett, standards editor for the New York Times, ran a blog called After Deadline as a teaching tool to point out grammatical and stylistic missteps that made it to print. He often called out writers for using “most well-known” in place of “best-known”: “The superlative form of the adverb ‘well’ is ‘best.’ So there’s no reason to describe something as ‘the most well-known’—make it ‘the best-known’ ” (After Deadline, August 4, 2008).

A. For newspapers, especially those that are published in print, concision is crucial, so changing “most well-known” to “best-known” as a matter of policy makes good sense. (Nothing compares to After Deadline for its combination of practical, field-tested advice and journalistic wisdom.) But where space is not at such a premium, is “best-known” necessarily an improvement over “most well-known”?

“Well-known” is an established compound; it’s listed in Merriam-Webster (where it’s defined as “fully or widely known”). The meaning of “well-known” is therefore well known (Chicago drops the hyphen for most compound adjectives after the noun). So “the most well-known author” arguably loses just a little by being changed to “the best-known author.” “Best-known” is OK, but it isn’t in Merriam-Webster.

“Well-known” isn’t the only well-known “well-” compound. Consider “well-rounded”: “best-rounded” isn’t a great alternative for “most well-rounded.” And what about “best-heeled”? Some work better than others, so it’s probably best to consider these on a case-by-case basis. And in the case of “most well-known,” our editors apparently chose to leave well enough alone.

Q. I can’t locate an answer to this question. Are proper names with particles alphabetized based on the particle or the first element? I.e., which comes first, “da Rosa” or “Dario”?

A. If you’re alphabetizing letter by letter, put “Dario” first (“d-a-r-i” comes before “d-a-r-o”); under the word-by-word system, “da Rosa” would go first (“da” comes before “Dario”). In either system, the particle is alphabetized along with the name unless the surname is normally listed without the particle. So, for example, Simone de Beauvoir would be listed before an individual with the last name da Rosa even though “de” would follow “da”—because Beauvoir is generally referred to by surname alone, without the particle (and would be listed as “Beauvoir, Simone de” in an index). See CMOS 16.71 for more examples.

Q. I know that the CMOS preference is not to hyphenate “noun + gerund” compounds, but in the case of “decision-making,” which appears with the hyphen in many dictionaries, would CMOS call for a hyphen? Thank you in advance!

A. Here’s what our hyphenation table says, under “noun + gerund”: “Noun form usually open; adjective form hyphenated before a noun. Some permanent compounds hyphenated or closed (see 7.82).”

If you follow the link to paragraph 7.82, you will see that a permanent compound is a compound that’s listed in the dictionary in any form—open, hyphenated, or closed. In Merriam-Webster, our dictionary of choice, the hyphenated compound noun “decision-making” appears as such, so it’s always hyphenated. (Most adjective forms, on the other hand, can be left open after a noun, even if they are listed in the dictionary with a hyphen.)

In CMOS 16 (published in 2010), “decision-making” was not yet listed in Merriam-Webster. But M-W added it in time for CMOS 17 (published in 2017). So whereas CMOS 16 shows the noun form “decision making” in its table, CMOS 17 has “decision-making.”

We hope this helps with your decision-making efforts! (As a preceding modifier, “decision-making” would be hyphenated even according to CMOS 16.)

Q. I know that Chicago recommends the dictionaries published by Merriam-Webster, but as a writer based in Canada is it possible to opt for a dictionary of Canadian English and still be in conformity with Chicago?

A. Chicago style allows for regional variations in spelling. Unless you are writing for a publisher that expects otherwise, it’s best to choose a dictionary that matches the variety of English you are writing. For matters of spelling, that source could be any high-quality standard dictionary. At the end of CMOS 7.1, where we recommend Merriam-Webster, we also refer readers to our bibliography for additional English-language dictionaries, including the Canadian Oxford Dictionary:

Barber, Katherine, ed. Canadian Oxford Dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. https://doi.org/10.1093/acref/9780195418163.001.0001.

The Canadian Oxford includes entries for “colour,” “defence,” and “kilometre”—each of which lists, as “also” variants, the standard US spellings: “color,” “defense,” and “kilometer.” It also includes Canadian terms like “bushlot” and “First Nation,” neither of which is in Merriam-Webster.

Q. I’m editing a biography (in English) of a French historical figure that contains many French-language titles of works, including plays, books, poems, and artwork. I’m applying Chicago’s rule of sentence-case capitalization to these titles (for example, La dame aux camélias). But what about a title like Les Misérables? Should that actually be written Les misérables? That doesn’t seem right.

A. If you were to use sentence case for French titles of works, then yes—you would write Les misérables, because “misérables” is not a proper noun. But French usage varies. You’ll see sentence-style capitalization in some of the product descriptions at Amazon.fr for Victor Hugo’s novel (and its adaptations in other media); more often you’ll see what looks like headline style. But as a longer title would show, that isn’t headline style; it’s the Académie française–approved style that capitalizes the definite article and the first substantive (and any intervening adjective or adverb). That’s the style you’ll see on many French book covers and title pages (and according to which your other example would be styled La Dame aux camélias). CMOS mentions this style as an alternative in paragraph 11.27. We recommend sentence style first because it’s easy to apply and applicable across many languages. But you can make an exception and follow the more common French practice, especially in a work with a French theme (and assuming you are familiar enough with French to apply the rule correctly). For a fuller statement of the rule (in French), see the discussion of capital letters in titles of works (“majuscules dans les titres d’œuvres”) under “Questions de langue” at the website of the Académie française (where Les Misérables is used as an example).

Q. In dialogue, do you spell out social titles? For example, “Mister Lewis, please come to the table.” If so, what should we do with “Ms.”? This is a different word from “Miss,” so that isn’t a totally accurate spelling. Obviously “Ms.” (pronounced “miz”) implies that marital status is unknown, while “Miss” suggests being single. Should the dialogue just be “Ms. Smith” throughout, or “Miss Smith” even though the author means “Ms.”?

A. The fact that dialogue is spoken doesn’t mean everything has to be spelled out for the reader. Use this two-part test: Is the word normally abbreviated? And if the dialogue occurred in a dramatic work, would an actor know how to speak the line? Social titles are pretty much always abbreviated before a name, and “Ms.” is pronounced “miz”—as any reader should know. So write “Ms. Smith.”