New Questions and Answers

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.

August Q&A

Q. If you’re replying to someone and want to say thank you, would you write “Thank you John” or “Thank you, John”?

A. If you happen to know that the object of your gratitude is a stickler for vocative commas, then write “Thank you, John.” Otherwise (and unless the context is formal), feel free to leave the comma out, a choice that suggests a certain degree of spontaneity and a friendly disregard for the rules. But if you’re an editor of any kind, use the comma regardless of what anyone might think; you have your reputation to maintain. For more on these commas, see CMOS 6.53.

Q. Hi. I’m writing about your answer to the question of capitalizing “out of” in the last round of Q&As. You said, “Chicago style would be . . . Getting out of Saigon,” treating “out of” as a preposition (as listed in Merriam-Webster).

But in that example, I would have parsed “get[ting] out” as a phrasal verb, also listed in M-W, and capped the preposition “out” according to CMOS 8.159 rule 3, because it is acting adverbially: “Getting Out of Saigon.” Just wondering if you’ve heard a similar argument from other readers. Thanks for considering.

A. A few readers have written to us about this, and we think yours is the best analysis—much better than ours, which failed to consider that “getting out” might take priority over “out of.”

We’ve now added a bracketed update to our original answer. Thank you for taking the time to challenge us on this. The Q&A—not to mention CMOS—depends as much on our readers’ questions as it does on their collective editorial wisdom.

Q. A few of us are curious which is the correct wording of this sentence per CMOS guidelines: “They blotted out any distant landmark, enclosing Luke and I in a foreign landscape.” Should the words be “Luke and I” or “Luke and me”?

A. “Luke and me” would be correct in that context. That’s because (as the people who write grammar books generally agree) the choice of subject or object for a pronoun used by itself remains the same when that pronoun is used with one or more additional nouns or pronouns.

So just as most of us wouldn’t write that something was “enclosing I in a foreign landscape,” we shouldn’t write that it was “enclosing Luke and I.” And though people who use “Luke and I” in this way may argue that they’re treating it as a sort of invariable compound noun, it’s still wrong. Let’s just say that many editors hope this I-as-object phenomenon fades away.

For a look at a related problem, see “ ‘Hazel and I’s Puppy’? When Fiction Meets Bad Grammar,” in Fiction+ at CMOS Shop Talk.

Q. How should one cite a reviewer’s blurb from the back cover or front matter of a book in a footnote? Thanks!

A. Cite the book, not the blurb, just as you would for any text that you either quote or paraphrase or otherwise refer to. And tell your readers where in the book to find the blurb, which you could do either in the text or in a note.

For example, you might quote from Simon Winchester’s blurb on the back of the dust jacket of the Ballantine hardcover edition of The Dictionary of Lost Words, by Pip Williams, and include the following footnote:

1. Simon Winchester, praise for Pip Williams, The Dictionary of Lost Words (New York: Ballantine Books, 2021), back of dust jacket.

Winchester’s name and “back of dust jacket” could be omitted if these details are mentioned in the text.

If you instead (or also) quote from the shortened version of Winchester’s blurb that appears in the opening pages of the Ballantine paperback, your footnote might look like this:

2. Simon Winchester, praise for Pip Williams, The Dictionary of Lost Words, trade paperback ed. (New York: Ballantine Books, 2022), third page (unnumbered).

Had the praise pages been counted in the pagination, you would have cited page iii—even if that page didn’t have a page number printed on it. But in the Williams paperback, the first page with a number is page xiv. Counting back from there, we can figure out that the half title is page i. The praise pages begin before that, so they can’t be cited with an actual page number.

Note that the Winchester example is of a blurb, or praise from an individual usually solicited by the author or publisher. Typically, such blurbs appear in first editions, before any reviews have been published; the front matter of a paperback reissue typically includes excerpts from published reviews (the Williams paperback includes both). Either can be referred to as “praise.”

Finally, that statement about the paperback edition in the second footnote above isn’t normally included; usually, only a numbered or revised edition is specified (see CMOS 14.133). But in this context, specifying the paperback edition will be helpful. (We adapted it from the edition statement on the copyright page: “2022 Ballantine Books Trade Paperback Edition.”)

Q. Are there instances where it is permissible to place a note directly after a particular word in a sentence that you would like to add an explanatory note to, as to avoid confusion if I were to place it at the end of the sentence?

A. Unless you are working for an instructor or publisher who forbids it, a note number may appear anywhere in a sentence. And though it’s usually best for readers not to be interrupted midsentence* by a note number or symbol, the exception you describe seems warranted.


* The word midsentence—though it’s not listed in Merriam-Webster (as of August 8, 2023)—follows Chicago style for words formed with prefixes (see CMOS 7.89, sec. 4, under “mid”).

Q. When should you capitalize AM and PM?

A. Capitalize “AM” and “PM” not only in the morning and afternoon but at any time of day or night—unless you’re following Chicago style, in which case use lowercase and periods (10:30 a.m., 5:30 p.m.). See CMOS 10.41.

Q. Would “secretary of homeland security” be lowercase in a sentence without that person’s name?

A. Just as you’d refer in Chicago style to a president of the United States or other country with a lowercase p (as in this sentence), you’d use a lowercase s when referring to a secretary of homeland security.

But note that the generic phrase “homeland security” (like “transportation,” “state,” and other such terms) becomes a proper noun when it refers to the administrative body—as in the Department of Homeland Security, or Homeland Security for short.

So you’d refer to the secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security. But this can get tricky: Does “homeland security” in “secretary of homeland security” refer to the department or only to the role? If in doubt, capitalize (“secretary of Homeland Security”). See also CMOS 8.22 and 8.63.

And before a name, secretary would be capitalized, as in US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, or Secretary Mayorkas.