New Questions and Answers

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.”

May Q&A

Q. The emigrate/immigrate distinction has been the subject of differing opinions in our office. Each time a case arises, we consult CMOS 5.250 and come up with different interpretations. Editing the following sentence, for example, we changed “immigrate” to “emigrate”: Justice Abella was born in a displaced persons camp in Stuttgart, Germany, and with her family immigrated to Canada in 1950. Several of us argue that it’s “immigrate” because she’s going to Canada; others say “emigrate” because she’s leaving a past home. Please let us know which is correct.

A. In the example you cite, either term is correct. To emphasize Justice Abella’s departure from Germany, choose emigrate; to emphasize the move to Canada, choose immigrate. In the former case, “from Germany” is understood:

Justice Abella was born in a displaced persons camp in Stuttgart, Germany, and with her family emigrated [from Germany] to Canada in 1950.

You could avoid the issue altogether by choosing “migrate,” but that term is more often applied in relation to movement between regions (e.g., south to north) than to specific countries.

Q. JSTOR provides readers with what I would assume to be the correct way to cite articles. However, in the case of an article that includes double quotation marks in the title, these are retained in JSTOR’s “Chicago” citation:

KORNBLUTH, GENEVRA. "Carolingian Engraved Gems: "Golden Rome Is Reborn"?" Studies in the History of Art 54 (1997): 44-61. http://www.jstor.org/stable/42622184.

But isn’t this wrong?

A. JSTOR, like most bibliographic databases, generates its citations automatically, so it’s susceptible to certain types of errors. You’ve spotted a common one. You’d also want to change the author’s name to upper- and lowercase. And a copyeditor would apply smart quotation marks, plus an en dash in the page range. The corrected citation would look like this:

Kornbluth, Genevra. “Carolingian Engraved Gems: ‘Golden Rome Is Reborn’?” Studies in the History of Art 54 (1997): 44–61. http://www.jstor.org/stable/42622184.

But wait. If you dig into this example further, you’ll see that even though it’s from JSTOR (originally an abbreviation for “Journal Storage”), this article isn’t an article at all. In fact, it’s a chapter in a book. What looks like a journal title in JSTOR’s citation is actually the title of a book series. So the original citation needs more than just a few cosmetic changes. Here’s what it would look like, properly revised (see CMOS 14.107 and 14.123):

Kornbluth, Genevra. “Carolingian Engraved Gems: ‘Golden Rome Is Reborn’?” In Engraved Gems: Survivals and Revivals, edited by Clifford Malcolm Brown, 44–61. Studies in the History of Art 54. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1997. http://www.jstor.org/stable/42622184.

The book also happens to be the thirty-second volume in a subseries of published symposia, but if that’s relevant the details could be mentioned in the text. And there’s more: the book was distributed by the University Press of New England, an optional detail that can be added to the citation (see CMOS 14.141).

All of this can be determined by careful attention to the source as a whole—in this case, starting with the title page of the book. To its credit, JSTOR makes all of this context available, for those who are willing to look for it.

The moral of this story: Canned citations are a great convenience, but they should always be double-checked against the sources themselves. You never know what you might find.

Q. Not actually a question but a comment on one of your recent answers, regarding type style for book titles on social media platforms. You left out a common and I think preferable option: to use leading and trailing underscores (e.g., _A Tale of Two Cities_). Some software (such as Slack and WhatsApp) already converts text with that form to italics, and readers will so understand it even on platforms (such as Facebook) that do not yet do so.

A. In our original answer, we were considering the problem of presenting book titles in a stylistically appropriate way on platforms that do not allow for italics. Literal underscores would be _overkill_ for most types of posts. Readers don’t usually need to know that, for example, Chicago recommends italics where this option is available. But you are right: where it is important to communicate italics as such, underscores (known in Unicode as low lines) would be the preferred approach (just as *asterisks* would be the preferred delimiters for boldface).

Q. How do I footnote a reference to an online dictionary definition (Oxford English) in a PowerPoint presentation please?

A. In a presentation, it’s best not to distract your audience with a lot of bibliographic data (unless the point is to dissect a source citation). Instead, simply mention the source in your talk or include a brief attribution somewhere on the slide.

Brexit, n. The (proposed) withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, and the political process associated with it. Sometimes used specifically with reference to the referendum held in the UK on 23 June 2016, in which a majority of voters favoured withdrawal from the EU.

Oxford English Dictionary

It’s always a good idea also to include a final slide (or slides) that list sources in full. There you can include an expanded citation, shown here in the style of an unnumbered note:

OED Online, s.v. “Brexit, n.,” accessed May 2, 2019, http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/54763375.

You don’t have to discuss this final slide (you don’t even have to show it), but it serves as a detailed record that documents your research and stays with your presentation.

Q. In the context of computer bits, would you make an exception to the rule about spelling out numbers under 10 (Chicago’s alternative rule), or would you still spell out “zero” and “one”? For example, “Information is represented in bits as 0s and 1s.” Is that correct?

A. When expressing binary bit strings (or any specific numeric component thereof), it makes sense to use numerals: e.g., 11111100011 (binary for 2019). But when discussing binary numbers as a concept—as in your example—you can refer to zeros and ones as the basis of the system. This has the advantage, among others, of avoiding the plural forms 1s and 0s (which in some fonts will look almost like words).

Q. I am writing a report for a corporate client describing his construction project. When not using the formal name of the project, he insists that I refer to it as “the Project,” where the word “Project” is capitalized. That does not bother me. But when an adjective precedes the word “project,” it strikes me as odd to maintain the capitalization. For example, “this redevelopment Project.” Does Chicago have a recommendation about capitalization in these two instances?

A. Presumably “the Project” has been defined at first use—for example,

The project for redevelopment of the brownfield area at the intersection of Street St. and N. Avenue (“the Project”), which consists of . . .

After that, to refer to the “redevelopment Project” would be redundant. So the best course is simply to replace “this redevelopment Project” with “the Project.” Any additional details can be added after the term (or incorporated into the original definition of the term). (It should perhaps be noted that, outside of certain legal or corporate contexts, Chicago style would normally call for lowercase “project.”)

Q. When a word beginning with an uppercase letter, either because it begins the sentence or because it’s a proper noun, is stammered/stuttered, should the second and following instances of the letter also be uppercase? I’m looking at “P-peter,” which looks really strange to me, and I would write it “P-Peter,” but I can’t find any examples in CMOS.

A. “P-Peter” is the logical choice. By capitalizing the second “P,” you are unambiguously signaling repetition of the first letter as such. Additional letters would also be capitalized: “P-P-Peter.” If the word would normally be lowercased, a capital letter still makes sense at the beginning of a sentence—“P-Please, p-please . . .”—though some authors will prefer lowercase. Choose one approach and apply it consistently.