September Q&A

Q. Would you italicize “x” in a phrase like “x number of dollars”? It seems like a variable, but I wasn’t sure if this casual use merited italics.

A. When an ordinary expression is borrowed from a specialized discipline like math, any basic convention that would be recognized by nonspecialists can often be retained, even in casual usage. For example, Chicago style is to italicize the n in “nth degree” (see CMOS 9.6); by extension, we would write “x number of dollars” (with the letter x in italics). As you suggest, these letters act like variables, which in math are usually italicized.

Another approach that’s common in published works is to use a capital X (normally without italics): “X number of dollars.” A capital X can stand in for anything that’s unknown or mysterious in some way—as in “X factor” or “X marks the spot”—and it’s arguably easier to read than a lowercase x. But either choice should work well as long as you’re consistent.

Q. How can you find out if you have the right Unicode character? Some characters are hard to tell apart.

A. Great question! Let’s take another trip into the unknown, this time using the potentially ambiguous symbol × (not to be confused with the letter x).

If the character is in a Word document, it’s easy to find out what it is. First, select the character. Next, open the Symbol dialog box from the Insert tab. This dialog box should give you the info you need (shown here using a PC; on a Mac, the interface and what it shows will be a little different):

The Symbol dialog box in Microsoft Word showing the multiplication sign and its Unicode number.

The Unicode name is “Multiplication Sign”; the character code is 00D7.

If you don’t have Word, try copying and pasting the character into a search engine. If the character isn’t on your screen, try searching by name. A search for either “×” or “multiplication sign Unicode” (or “times symbol Unicode” or the like) should return useful results. Wikipedia—a good source for this kind of purely technical info—will often appear near the top of the list.

But don’t rely on the first answer you come across. Let’s say that, according to Wikipedia, the Unicode number for the multiplication sign is 00D7. If you search the Unicode code charts for 00D7, you should get a link to the latest version of the chart with that character, which you can use to confirm that it’s the one you want (as we’ll see below).

Or, if you use Google Docs, you could draw the symbol in the dialog box that appears when you go to Insert > Special characters (in the menu). But it’s not a foolproof solution. Draw a multiplication sign and you could be faced with ten or more possibilities; that sign isn’t the only character resembling an X. You’ll need to hover over each result to get more info. The fourth one—multiplication X, U+2715—looks promising:

The special characters dialog box in Google Docs showing a mouse-drawn X and ten X-shaped characters in the results.

Or is it? Not quite: U+2715 is a similar glyph, but it’s not equivalent to the multiplication sign, as the arrow next to 2715 in Unicode’s chart for 00D7 will tell us (in this snippet from the fifth page):

Detail from the Unicode chart for 00D7, multiplication sign.

You’d be right to infer that U+00D7, classified as a mathematical operator, must be the one to use for math, but U+00D7 isn’t one of the ten X-shaped characters that came up for us in Google Docs, whereas U+2715 is one of the ten (and includes “multiplication” in its name).

But if you do a search for “2715” at the Unicode page linked to above, you’ll discover that this “multiplication x” is in an entirely different chart—where it’s one of nearly two hundred “dingbats,” a collection of special characters that are more ornamental than mathematical.

Assuming you want the character designed for mathematical contexts, the right choice is U+00D7 and not its somewhat larger dingbat cousin—or any of the other imposters (several of which are also dingbats). Most characters will be easier to pin down than that one (and less likely to be dingbats), but it’s always a good idea to check more than one source.

Q. When referring to the number of points possible on an exam, should I style numbers according to CMOS’s general rule, or should I use numerals even for numbers below 101? Using numerals seems more common, but I’d like to know whether CMOS has an opinion.

A. There are many categories where numerals are generally used instead of words, from page numbers to sports scores. Whenever you suspect numerals would be more appropriate in a given scenario, particularly when referring to a type of number that would normally be expressed as a numeral in the wild (as page numbers on the pages of a book, scores on a scoreboard—or points tallied on an exam), then use numerals, even for numbers under 101.

Q. What is the correct way to format this sentence? When she cried, “That’s not fair!,” he merely shrugged. Where would the comma go? Both inside and outside the quotation marks look wrong, as does omitting it altogether.

A. The punctuation in your example makes sense, but the comma after the exclamation point is omitted in dialogue as a matter of convention, even when the sentence structure would seem to require one:

When she cried, “That’s not fair!” he merely shrugged.

But if that looks a little uneven, note also that words that are described or reported as having been said (When she cried) rather than being presented directly as dialogue (She cried) don’t always need an introductory comma—especially in fiction, a subtle but useful distinction explained in more detail by Amy Schneider on pages 164 and 165 of her book The Chicago Guide to Copyediting Fiction (University of Chicago Press, 2023).

Accordingly, you can omit commas entirely from your example, which reads like dialogue but isn’t quite direct discourse:

When she cried “That’s not fair!” he merely shrugged.

Either approach is fine, but if the context is creative and the prose casual, you may want to choose the comma-free second option. See also CMOS 13.14 and 13.15 and, for scenarios in which a comma would follow an exclamation point, 6.125.

Q. If a run-in quotation ends with a question mark or exclamation point, is a period needed following the parenthetical source? For example: The girl in the novel asked, “Where’s Toto?” (Baum 1939) Could you also direct me to the section and examples in CMOS 17? Thanks in advance for the help!

A. Yes, you need to add a period after the closing parenthesis, but only if the quotation is presented in line with the rest of the text (as in your question).

For example, you might quote Dorothy asking the Lion (capitalized in the original) not to bite her dog: “Don’t you dare to bite Toto!” (Baum 1900, 67). Note that we’re referring to the original 1900 edition of the L. Frank Baum classic (published by the George M. Hill Company). And note the period after the parenthetical citation.

But if you present the quotation as a block, there’s no period after the source:

“Don’t you dare to bite Toto! You ought to be ashamed of yourself, a big beast like you, to bite a poor little dog!”
 “I didn’t bite him,” said the Lion, as he rubbed his nose with his paw where Dorothy had hit it.
 “No, but you tried to,” she retorted. “You are nothing but a big coward.”
 “I know it,” said the Lion, hanging his head in shame; “I’ve always known it. But how can I help it?” (Baum 1900, 67)

See CMOS 13.69 and 13.70, respectively. And don’t forget about search. If you enter the words “source period parentheses” in the search box at CMOS Online, you should get those paragraphs among the top results.

Q. If sixteen articles were published under the same title across sixteen consecutive issues of a periodical, and the author wishes to represent them all in a single reference, how would you suggest formatting the footnote?

A. When a source citation gets complicated, try adding a description. If the sixteen articles appeared, for example, in an academic journal published in annual volumes with four issues each, you could do this:

1. Author’s Name, “Title of Article,” Name of Journal, vol. 72, no. 1–vol. 75, no. 4 (2016–19); published as a series of sixteen articles under the same title.

Though “vol.” is normally omitted in Chicago-style citations for journal articles, it may be retained as needed for clarity (as in the example above).

Another approach would be to cite the first article, as follows:

1. Author’s Name, “Title of Article,” Name of Journal 72, no. 1 (2016), . . . ; continued as a series of sixteen articles under the same title through vol. 75, no. 4 (2019).

The second option has the advantage of allowing for a DOI for the first article, which should help readers track down that article and, from there, the rest of the series (see also CMOS 14.8).

Q. In CMOS 14.160, you recommend citing reflowable electronic text using “a chapter number or a section heading or other such milepost in lieu of a page or location number.” Should the section heading be labeled “section” to show that it is intended as a location?

A. The key word is “under,” and in a book with chapters it’s helpful to add a chapter number in addition to a section title. For example, the EPUB edition of Matthew Shindell’s For the Love of Mars could be cited in a note as follows:

1. Matthew Shindell, For the Love of Mars: A Human History of the Red Planet (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2023), chap. 4, under “The Nineteenth-Century Cosmic Epic,” EPUB.

2. Shindell, Mars, chap. 5, under “Mars after Detente.”

But it’s usually better for your readers if you cite specific pages in books (partly because books are so long). If you have the option of consulting a print or PDF edition of a book, do so, and then cite by page number.