May Q&A

Q. I know an en dash separates sports scores, representing the word “to” (e.g., “the Lions won 34–6”), but what about win/loss records? In this case one would say, for example, “They ended the season with a record of 10 and 4.” So should this be expressed with an en dash or a hyphen? 10-4 or 10–4?

A. Though it’s not strictly a range, a 10–4 record expresses a comparison, as in “ten wins compared to four losses.” This makes records analogous to scores; a score of 34–6 could be restated as “thirty-four points compared to six.” So use an en dash for both.

Write “win–loss record” with an en dash too. Though the forward slash in your question makes a lot of sense—it suggests alternatives, as in “wins, on the one hand, and losses, on the other”—an en dash in “win–loss” will be consistent with its parallel use in expressions like “10–4.”

Finally, it should be noted that sports scores and records have appeared far more often with hyphens than with en dashes in published sources. That’s what you’ll find in the AP Stylebook, the primary guide for many sports reporters. The Associated Press, like many of the news sources it serves, doesn’t use en dashes. If you’re a fan of the en dash, score one for Chicago over AP.

Q. I work as an editor, and we use CMOS as our primary source. My boss recently told me to hyphenate “machine-scored” in “the items were machine-scored,” because of a rule she cited about compounds formed with a verb. I can’t find a rule like this in CMOS. Is the hyphen Chicago style?

A. Chicago doesn’t require a hyphen in “machine scored” unless it serves as a modifier before a noun (e.g., “a machine-scored test”); after a noun, as in your example, the hyphen would be omitted. See the hyphenation guide, section 2, “noun + participle” (at CMOS 7.89). Compare “air-conditioned,” which is hyphenated in all positions, and “handcrafted,” which is always closed. Those terms derive from the verbs “air-condition” and “handcraft,” respectively, which are listed as such in Merriam-Webster (see also “phrases, verbal” in section 2 of the guide in CMOS).

The verb “machine score,” on the other hand, isn’t in Merriam-Webster. But that doesn’t mean your organization can’t choose to hyphenate it as a matter of house style. If you do—a decision that might make sense, for example, as the style for a company that routinely scores standardized tests and therefore uses the term more often than the average writer or publisher—then hyphenate it as a verb and as an adjective, in all positions in a sentence. For the noun, you could use “air conditioner” and “air-conditioning” as your models, leaving only “machine scorer” open.

Q. What is the CMOS ruling on the following: “esports” or “eSports”? Are esports games (e.g., Call of Duty: Warzone) italicized or put in quotes? Or neither?

A. Chicago style would call for “e-sports,” with a hyphen, usage that extends to all other e-words with the exception of “email” and any trade names like “eBay” that don’t use a hyphen. The title of a video game, whether or not it is considered an e-sport, and whether it’s the name of the series or an individual game in that series, would be in italics: Call of Duty: Warzone, the Call of Duty series. For hyphens, see CMOS 7.89 (section 3, under “e”); for video games, see CMOS 8.190.

Q. Hi. A fiction author of ours hates the word that and often replaces it with a comma. For example: “The interior was so dark, she made out only shadowy shapes.” And “Her eyes fell on a cup, and a memory rose up with such clarity, she released a little gasp.” In such cases, we might offer her suggestions to rephrase, but would you let the commas stand? Or would you consider these sentences to have comma splices? This comes up a lot in fiction with other authors, too, so we’d love to hear your opinion! Thanks.

A. Your author’s style seems fine to us. The word that—whether as a relative pronoun or, as in your examples, as a subordinating conjunction—is often omitted. Relative pronoun: “The room [that] I entered was shadowy.” Subordinating conjunction: “I was so hungry [that] I nearly fainted.”

In the first case, a comma in place of that would be clearly wrong; commas never set off a restrictive relative clause (called a contact clause when the relative pronoun is omitted). But a comma in the second example might add a bit of clarity, especially if the clauses were longer and you didn’t have the option of retaining that.

Nor would we necessarily consider your sentences as having comma splices; they’re more like compound sentences with elided conjunctions. If you’re consistent with your author’s prose and suggest rephrasing wherever clarity is at stake, her style will begin to seem natural, allowing the story to take center stage.

Q. Hi. In Chicago Style, are “T” and “F” acceptable for “True” and “False”? The document is simple questions with T and F answers.

A. If you mean capital letters T and F without periods, then yes. Chicago style requires periods with initials in names—as in “F. Scott Fitzgerald” and “T. S. Eliot”—but not with other types of capitalized initialisms (most of which include at least two letters, as in “US”; see CMOS 10.4). And though the abbreviations for t defined as “true” and for f defined as “false” are lowercase as main entries in Merriam-Webster—where other meanings range from “metric ton” to “folio” and “full”—a “Kids Definition” farther down the page for each entry capitalizes T and F to mean “true” and “false,” suggesting their common use in quizzes and tests. For spelling out abbreviations on first use, see CMOS 10.3.

Q. Should the apostrophe in an italicized word in possessive plural form be italicized? Example: If I italicize the possessive form of the word pirates, would the apostrophe also be italicized?

A. That depends. If you’re referring to the plural possessive form of the word pirates as a word, then italicize the whole thing, including the apostrophe: pirates’. But if you’re using italics for emphasis, leave the apostrophe in regular text. For example, “It was the pirates’ ship, not mine, that sank.”

The difference, however, between ’ and will go unnoticed by most readers—even those of us who scrutinize such things for a living—so let’s switch to the singular to confirm our choices. To refer to the possessive pirate’s as a word, you’d put the whole thing in italics (as it is styled in this sentence). But for emphasis—that is, to single out the pirate’s ship as opposed to some other ship—italics are best reserved for pirate alone (as styled in this sentence, between the dashes). Even in the singular, this is an extremely fine distinction that will go unnoticed by many. But it recognizes that the possessive ending can be considered independently of the word to which it attaches, as “belonging to” would be in “the ship belonging to the pirate.” That final period, in case you’re wondering, isn’t in italics.

For italics for emphasis, see CMOS 7.50; for words used as words, see CMOS 7.63.

Q. How does one handle terms such as “Big Ag”?

A. “Big Ag” isn’t yet in any dictionary we’ve checked, but the OED includes a subentry under “big (adj. and adv.)” for terms like “big agriculture, big oil, big tobacco, etc.” That entry refers to entries for “big business” and “big pharma,” the former of which would seem to be the model for the other “big” terms (in its sense of “large commercial organizations, now esp. multinational corporations, collectively”).

Merriam-Webster Unabridged includes an entry for “Big Pharma,” capital B and P, with lowercase “big pharma” listed as a less common variant. And though usage varies—as illustrated by the examples cited in the OED—initial capitals, whose primary feature is their Large Size, work well for these terms. So “Big Ag” looks good to us.