New Questions and Answers

Q. Hello. I am alphabetizing something according to the word-by-word system and am curious about whether conjunctions are taken into account. Or are they disregarded as they would be at the beginning of an entry? For example, would the correct alphabetical order be (1) animal experiments, (2) animal and human bond (conjunction ignored), or (1) animal and human bond, (2) animal experiments (conjunction considered)? Thanks for your assistance.

A. In Chicago style, any word occurring in the middle of an entry, including a conjunction, counts in alphabetization (whether word by word or letter by letter), so your second ordering is correct (the a in “and” precedes the e in “experiments”). A conjunction would also count at the beginning of an entry, with one notable exception: index subentries. For example, here’s what an entry for “hyphenation” might look like in a book index:

hyphenation: of compound modifiers, 147; and line breaks, 108; in Microsoft Word, 148

Not only is “and” ignored in the second subentry, but so are “of” and “in” in the first and third subentries; like conjunctions, prepositions are ignored at the beginning of index subentries, as are articles (see CMOS 16.68). But at the beginning of main index entries—and, by extension, any ordinary list—only articles (a, an, and the) are ignored. To make it easier for readers to find things, entries with articles are inverted:

“And I Love Her” (Beatles)
“Day in the Life, A” (Beatles)
Invisible Man (Ellison)
Invisible Man, The (Wells)
On the Origin of Species (Darwin)
Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas (Raff)

Note that the “And” in the first item counts; if it didn’t, “And I Love Her” would be listed second. Note also that if you were to disregard “On the,” Darwin would follow Raff. See also CMOS 16.56 and 16.144.

Q. In the following sentence, should the word “point” be singular or plural? “The type should be no larger than 11 point.”

A. It should be “points,” plural, but it would become singular “point” if used as a modifier:

the type is 11 points
11-point type

All this changes if you use an abbreviation:

the type is 11 pt.
11 pt. type

Not only is “pt.” preferred for both singular and plural, but “11 pt. type” has no hyphen. For the first convention, see CMOS 10.65. For the second, see the hyphenation guide at CMOS 7.89, section 1, “number + abbreviation.”

Q. Can the running heads in a multivolume set of books be the title of that particular volume rather than the overall title of all the volumes in the set?

A. Yes. Where running heads are concerned, there are few rules per se, only some useful conventions that depend on the book: “The choice of running heads . . . is governed chiefly by the structure and nature of the book” (see CMOS 1.12, which lists some common configurations). Consider the reader, and if your choice makes more sense than the alternatives, run with it.

Q. When an author publishes a work that violates Chicago’s headline capitalization style, should we convert the citation to Chicago style or leave it as the author designated? Is this discussed anywhere in CMOS?

A. It’s not uncommon for the title of a book, article, or other work to use a capitalization style that’s different from the one recommended by Chicago. In (almost) all cases, Chicago style (or whatever style you follow) would take precedence when such a title is mentioned in the text. Most advise applying some variation of headline style (a.k.a. title case).

For example, both the cover and title page for Finding Me, the memoir by Viola Davis (HarperOne, 2022), feature all caps: FINDING ME. Chicago style, as we’ve just seen, would apply title case (and italics).

Or there’s The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor—the Truth and the Turmoil, by Tina Brown (Crown, 2022). On that book’s cover and title page, the main title is in all caps, and the subtitle is in title case. There’s no colon between title and subtitle. Chicago style imposes title case for the main title and adds a colon (see CMOS 8.165).

Not that we’d never make an exception. For example, Chicago style would normally call for Star Trek: Into Darkness as the title of that 2013 film. Both the movie posters and the title screen itself feature all-caps “STAR TREK” on its own line; “INTO DARKNESS” is on the line below that, in a type size that differentiates it from the line above. CMOS would therefore treat “Star Trek” as the main title and “Into Darkness” as the subtitle—adding a colon between the two.

But we know that—after much debate—the world seems to have settled on Star Trek Into Darkness (capital I, no colon). The preposition “into” wouldn’t normally merit a capital I without the colon, and the absence of a colon does seem a little odd, but we’d allow both exceptions in the spirit of maintaining intergalactic harmony.

Q. In CMOS 9.48, on numbered places of worship, shouldn’t the example “Twenty-First Church of Christ” read as “Twenty-first Church of Christ”? Why is the second number uppercase?

A. The word “first” in “twenty-first” is an adjective, so it gets a capital F as the second part of a hyphenated compound in the name of an organization or the title of a work—or in a street name or whatever else would normally be capitalized. See CMOS 8.161, which also says specifically to capitalize the second element in a hyphenated spelled-out number. This advice was new to the 16th ed. (2010); until then, CMOS would have advised “Twenty-first,” but our editors agreed that the convention for lowercase wasn’t strong enough to continue to allow for an exception to the rule about adjectives. “Twenty-first” isn’t wrong, then, but it’s no longer Chicago style.

Q. When the word “coke” is used as a generic term to refer to any kind of soda, should it be capitalized?

A. The word “Coke” is a trademark, and it’s a noun—so it doesn’t fit the pattern of a wildly successful trademarked name that acquires a generic (lowercase) sense as a verb in common usage (e.g., Google > googled). It’s best therefore either to capitalize it or to use a generic word like “soda” or “cola,” depending on which is meant (apparently, it can vary by region).

If you’re writing or editing a novel, you might consider another alternative. For example, you could use context to let the reader know that the speaker doesn’t literally mean Coca-Cola:

“I’ll have a Coke,” he said. They served only Pepsi, but he wasn’t the type to make such distinctions.

Or, yes, you could lowercase the term and hope readers will understand that a lowercase c means the term is being used generically. But unless your style is to lowercase things that are normally capped, “Coke” with a capital C is still probably the best option. For more on this issue, see “Can I Put an iPhone in My Novel?” at CMOS Shop Talk.

Q. I have a question about author-date citation style in a sentence that mentions both the author’s name and the title of the work in question: “As philosopher Helen Small argues in The Long Life, there is a general ‘hiddenness’ of aging and becoming older in the history of Western philosophy.” Is it necessary to include a narrative citation here—“As philosopher Helen Small (2007) argues . . .”—or is the sentence as it originally stands enough?

A. The parenthetical date signals to readers that they will find more bibliographic details in the reference list. But there is some flexibility in author-date style. If you wish to avoid the awkwardness of appearing to attach a date to a person rather than a source, it’s acceptable to move the date to follow the title: “As philosopher Helen Small argues in The Long Life (2007), . . .” Likewise, a date alone may follow a quotation if the author has been identified in the lead-in to the quoted text. See also CMOS 15.26.

April Q&A

Q. CMOS 5.195 says that “compare with” is for literal comparisons and “compare to” for poetic or metaphorical comparisons. What is a “literal comparison,” and how does it compare with a “poetic or metaphorical comparison”?

A. A literal comparison examines two things relative to each other in a process that might turn up both similarities and differences (but often with an emphasis on the differences); you’ve demonstrated this usage in your question (“how does it compare with . . . ?”). We might also, for example, compare The Chicago Manual of Style with the AP Stylebook.

In a poetic or metaphorical comparison, the point is to note similarities between things that are not necessarily similar—as in Shakespeare’s “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” People and summer days aren’t literally alike; figuratively, however, it’s a different story (e.g., they might both be “lovely” or “temperate”). This type of comparison—with “to” rather than “with”—is useful for suggesting similarities of any kind: “Please don’t compare me to him. We’re not at all the same.”

For what it’s worth, the “to/with” distinction seems to be fading, as this Google Ngram comparing the frequency of “compared with” with that of “compared to” in books published in English since 1800 suggests (showing “to” overtaking “with” in the mid-1980s—a reversal that happened in the mid-1970s in American English but thirty years later in British English):

Adjusting the terms to “compare to” vs. “compare with” or “compare this to” vs. “compare this with” (and the like) shows a similar trend. If you’re a copyeditor, you might choose to enforce the distinction in formal prose but not necessarily in fictional dialogue and the like.

Q. Robots are being named and even developing personalities, not just in fiction, but in the real world. Should their names be italicized—i.e., “I told Benjamin to wait at the coffee shop,” where Benjamin is a robot with artificial intelligence?

A. Italics for robot names could be fun in fiction; however, that doesn’t seem to be the convention either in fiction or in real life. (An exception is generally made for named spacecraft and the like, including the robotic Mars rover Perseverance; see CMOS 8.116.) Before you decide what to do, consider asking some robots to weigh in.

Q. Do you recommend capitalizing named cocktails or other things that are given whimsical, as opposed to utilitarian, names? I’m thinking of things like “Sex on the Beach” or “Florida Tracksuit” that are not strictly proprietary. My inclination is to capitalize to highlight that the phrase is not to be read literally, but is in fact a name, like Coca-Cola, even if it isn’t trademarked.

A. We agree with both your inclination and your logic. Whether you name your cocktail or your cockatoo, that name generally gets treated as a proper noun and capitalized. As you suggest, readers will be less likely that way to get the mistaken impression, however fleeting, that something intimate is happening on the sand or that someone might be about to drink a workout ensemble.

Q. I have a question about the possessive of a plural acronym, but where the plural is only evident in the term’s full name, not the acronym. The acronym in question is “HHS,” for (Department of) “Health and Human Services.” In the following sentence fragment, should one write HHS’s or HHS’?: “There was no better test of [HHS’s/HHS’] commitment to its mission than . . .” Thank you!

A. Treat an initialism like “HHS” as singular regardless of whether it has a plural or a singular antecedent. (Note that CMOS uses “initialism” for an abbreviation pronounced as a series of letters, like “HHS,” and “acronym” when it is pronounced as a word, like “NASA.”) To take a similar example, one would write “the United States’ allies” (following the rules for forming the possessive of a noun that’s plural in form but singular in meaning; see CMOS 7.20) but, using the initialism, “the US’s allies.” Likewise, it would be correct to write “the Department of Health and Human Services’ commitment” but “HHS’s commitment.”

Q. I have two questions about the use of AD (anno Domini). First, is it acceptable to leave the abbreviation after the year when it refers to a decade, as in “the 30s AD” (referring to the fourth decade)? Or should that be “the AD 30s”? Second, since AD literally means “in the year of the Lord,” should we avoid saying “in AD 60,” etc., just as we avoid saying “in ibid.”?

A. When a span of years is expressed in the form of a decade, a century, or a millennium, it can safely precede rather than follow “AD.” So write “AD 30” but “the 30s AD” (or “the thirties AD”; see CMOS 9.33), “the second century AD,” “the first millennium AD,” and so forth.

Putting “AD” before the year in “AD 30” and “AD 30–35” and the like (as described in CMOS 9.34) does try to accommodate the Latin phrase behind the abbreviation (one would write “in the year 30,” not “30 in the year”). But Latin antecedents can take you only so far in English. It’s perfectly fine to write “in AD 2020” (despite any apparent redundancy). Likewise, though “ibid.” means “in the same place,” there’s nothing wrong with writing, for example, “referred to in ibid.” (but see CMOS 14.34, which discusses alternatives to “ibid.”).

Q. How would you cite marginalia in a published item in footnotes and bibliography? I want to reference a published nineteenth-century auction catalog that has handwritten purchase prices and buyers’ names. The catalog is now held in a public library so has a shelf number. With thanks.

A. Marginalia doesn’t count as a source in the conventional, citable sense any more than the ancient outline of the base of a mug on a page of vellum from a thirteenth-century transcription of a tenth-century Icelandic saga would count as one. You’d cite the saga, not the stain. Quote, discuss, and analyze the marginalia in your text, but cite the auction catalog as its source. If the catalog might be difficult for readers to find from the title and other bibliographical details alone, add information about its location to the end of the citation (e.g., “A copy of the catalog, with marginalia, is in the collection of . . .”).

Q. In reference lists, noun forms such as “editor” (ed.) and “translator” (trans.) are always abbreviated. The abbreviation of the plural “editors” is “eds.” But what is the abbreviation of plural “translators”? “Trans.” or “transs.”?

A. The plural of “trans.” would be “trans.” But because authors or editors rather than translators are generally listed first in citations of translated works, it would almost never come up in a source citation. In a numbered note you would use “trans.”—but standing for the verb form “translated by”:

1. Fyodor Dostoevsky, Demons, trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (New York: Vintage Books, 1994).

In bibliography format, these words are normally spelled out:

Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Demons. Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.

But if you do happen to come across that rare bird known as an anonymous work in translation—think Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which is usually translated from Middle English for modern audiences—and (rarer still) it lists more than one translator, then you would follow those names with “trans.” (translators):

Pevear, Richard, and Larissa Volokhonsky, trans. Title of Anonymous Work. . . .