October Q&A

Q. I belong to an editing group. In these two sentences, we believe the commas belong. Is there a name/description for this or a rule you can direct us to? “It’s what makes a barn, a barn.” “Whatever will be, will be.” That comma.

A. The closest rule seems to be the one at CMOS 6.55, described as “commas between homonyms” and offering examples like “Whatever is, is good.”

Q. Dear CMOS, would you please clarify 8.191 in the following example? I understand that Wikipedia should be roman, because it was never available in print. I also understand that The Chicago Manual of Style Online should be in italics, because there are both print and online editions. However, in practice, I find myself with sentences like this, which look “wrong”: “Comparing Music Index and RILM Abstracts with Music Periodical Index for music education topics is challenging.” In this example, which is coming up a lot in a book chapter I’m writing, would you italicize all three? And then, for consistency, would you italicize all three even when they are not together?

A. When similar online references are grouped together like that, it’s a service to readers to treat them all the same. Normally that would mean using roman type, since the majority of websites have no printed counterpart, but if most of the website titles in your book are italic, you could go with that.

Q. I am trying to document a long-standing journal which has undergone numerous title changes and publication sites. What title should I use for the multiple journal entries in the bibliography: the current title for all the entries or the title that was in use at the time of the issue publication? I have verified with the publisher that all the title variations (and differing places of publication) do indeed belong to the same journal. The changes are not extreme: no subtitle to a rather generic title or various subtitles attached to the generic main title.

A. List the journal titles as they were at the time of publication, and explain the variation in a headnote or footnote or annotation to the entries. The city of publication is not normally part of a journal citation, so you needn’t worry about that.

Q. In reply to the question of whether it should be “the Rangers hockey game” or “the Rangers’ hockey game,” you basically said that both are acceptable but the former is slightly preferred. I’d like to point out two things that make the former even more preferable. (1) The Rangers play more than one hockey game (and more than one per season), so you can never attend the Rangers hockey game, but only a Rangers hockey game. (2) A hockey game isn’t really a possession of the Rangers like their rink, but is rather an event (something incorporeal) that is merely highly associated with the Rangers, and whose association with the Rangers is only 50 percent (the other 50 percent of the association is with the opposing team).

A. Thank you for these thoughts! Let me point out a few things in reply. (1) Of course you can attend “the Rangers hockey game.” If I say, “Last night we went to the Rangers hockey game,” I’m referring to the game that was held last night. (2) The genitive indicated by apostrophe + s serves many purposes besides literal possession. Please see CMOS 5.20 for examples. (3) You might have misread our answer; in fact, CMOS 7.27 says, “If in doubt, choose the plural possessive.”

Q. How do you cite a speech that is out of copyright?

A. Cite it as you would any other speech. (Copyright information is not normally included in citations.) You can find examples of citations of speeches at CMOS 14.217 and 14.267.

Q. One of your inquirers included the sentence “Most people only know the one reality they’ve lived.” (This was not the subject of the person’s inquiry, which was well answered.) Should it not be “Most people know only the one reality”? “Most people only know” would imply they know it, but do not appreciate it, do not embrace it, do not examine it, etc. “Most people know only the one reality” would imply that they know the one reality but not others, almost certainly what the writer intended.

A. Your phrasing is technically correct, but Chicago only mildly disapproves of misplacing only—especially in informal contexts like the Q&A—because that’s the way people talk, and the meaning is almost always clear regardless. (Please see CMOS 5.186.) Merriam-Webster.com says: “After 200 years of preachment the following observations may be made: the position of only in standard spoken English is not fixed, since ambiguity is avoided through sentence stress; in casual prose that keeps close to the rhythms of speech only is often placed where it would be in speech; and in edited and more formal prose only tends to be placed immediately before the word or words it modifies.”

Q. I work at an arts organization that has two artistic directors. Should I refer to them as “co-artistic directors” or “artistic co-directors”?

A. Co–artistic directors. Otherwise they sound like directors who are artistic. (Chicago style would make that hyphen an en dash, by the way, but that may be too much to ask of an organization with two artistic directors.)

Q. What is the difference between Garner’s Modern English Usage, Garner’s Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation, and The Chicago Manual of Style?

A. Fortunately, Bryan Garner explains in this post at the CMOS Shop Talk blog.

Q. Should the possessive form of Los Angeles include the extra s? As a Spanish term, the city’s name is a singular noun, plural in form, but if we consider it fully anglicized, does it then count as a regular singular? Or does the plural form carry through?

A. It’s true that city names that include a plural word in English can drop the extra s when forming the possessive: Twin Groves’ population. But city names are by default singular (Twin Groves is a small city), and a guideline for styling non-English names in English should not depend on a writer’s knowledge of their meaning in the original language. Thus the possessive of Los Angeles in Chicago style follows the guidelines for singular possessives in English: Los Angeles’s.

Q. For catalog copy, how would I write inches symbols with a period at the end of a sentence? (The client wants symbols rather than to spell out inches. That is nondebatable.)

5'' × 4''.
5'' × 4.''

The client says it’s the latter. I say NO WAY. I think the hash marks are not to be confused with an end-quote mark. Please!!! Please!!! Can someone help me out here?

A. Hang on! We’re coming! You are right: quotation marks are irrelevant. The inches symbol must be closed up to the number, which puts the period at the very end, after the entire expression: 4″ × 5″. Also, please note that the symbol for inches is the double prime (″), not double quotation marks  (”) or straight quotation marks (") or (gasp!) two single quotation marks in a row ('').

Q. When I see the sign OVERSIZE LOAD on the back of trucks, it feels grammatically incorrect. Shouldn’t it be OVERSIZED LOAD or OVER-SIZED LOAD? Please tell me so I can either smirk when I see this sign or apologize to my family.

A. It’s always wise to consult an authority before smirking. In CMOS you can find over listed with other prefixes at 7.89, section 4, where you’ll see it without a hyphen: overmagnified, overshoes, etc. The main entry at Merriam-Webster.com is “oversize (or oversized).”