New Questions and Answers

Q. Would it be “the Color Purple musical” or “The Color Purple musical”?

A. The musical version of The Color Purple would be referred to as “the Color Purple musical”—where “the” is part of the surrounding text (and the The in the title has been omitted). A “the” belonging to the text could also be used before a title that doesn’t include an initial The. For example, a musical version of Star Trek might be referred to as “the Star Trek musical.”

Or consider other scenarios where a title that does include an initial The is used attributively (i.e., modifies another noun—like musical in the examples above). If you were to retain the The in the following example (where the title modifies character), the result would be clearly awkward:

Which Great Gatsby character do you dislike most?

not

Which The Great Gatsby character do you dislike most?

There’s no “the” at all in the first version of that example—which would also be true if you were to refer to “a Color Purple musical,” where the indefinite article “a” displaces the definite article The in the title. In general, when the title of a work is used attributively, be prepared to omit an initial The in favor of the surrounding text. See also CMOS 8.169.

Q. My question is regarding CMOS 2.12 on paragraph format—specifically, the directive to “let the word processor determine the breaks at the ends of lines.” This rule is for manuscripts, but I would like to know if it applies to websites. Are there exceptions?

A. Whether your document is a manuscript in Microsoft Word or an article published online as reflowable text, it’s usually best to let lines break where they will. But there are some exceptions in both contexts.

If you use Chicago-style spaced ellipses in your manuscript . . . like that, you’ll want to put a nonbreaking space before and after the middle dot. It isn’t mandatory at the manuscript stage—ellipses are usually formatted by whoever prepares a text for publication—but broken ellipses look bad.

In the published version of a document—as in an e-book or other reflowable format—there are some additional places where nonbreaking spaces may be added for publication. Some are optional:

  • Between initials in names like E. B. White
  • Between a parenthetical enumerator—e.g., (1) and (2) or (a) and (b)—and the word that follows
  • Between a numeral and an abbreviated unit of measure (e.g., 1 kg)

Others, like the nonbreaking spaces in spaced ellipses, would be required:

  • Between groups of digits in SI-style numerals like 33 333,33 (for 33,333.33), as described in CMOS 9.55
  • Between consecutive single and double quotation marks separated by a space, as described in CMOS 6.11 and in a related post at Shop Talk

For some additional considerations, start with CMOS 6.121 and 7.36.

Q. Would you spell out 150,000?

A. Use numerals for 150,000. The applicable principles are as follows:

  • Spell out numbers one through one hundred (Chicago’s general rule).
  • Spell out multiples of one through one hundred used in combination with hundred, thousand, or hundred thousand.

So you would spell out “five thousand” and “one hundred thousand” but use digits for 150,000—because 150 would normally be rendered as a numeral.

But if you’re following Chicago’s alternative rule of using digits for 10 and up, all such larger numbers are usually given as numerals. Rather than, for example, “fifteen thousand” or “15 thousand,” you’d write 15,000.

For more details, see CMOS 9.2, 9.3, and 9.4. For numbers with million, billion, and so forth, see CMOS 9.8.

Q. I am editing a nineteenth-century American diary, and I often want to omit passages that span a paragraph break. If I use, say, the first sentence of the first paragraph, then the second sentence of the second paragraph, how should it look? Using two ellipses looks weird to me. Or maybe I don’t need to indicate the new paragraph at all?

A. If you’re running the quotation in with the surrounding text instead of presenting it as a block quotation, there’s no need to signal the paragraph break; simply use ellipses for the omitted part as recommended in CMOS 13.50, 13.53, and 13.54. But if you’re using a block quotation (as for one hundred words or more), then show the paragraph break as follows:

Let’s pretend that the words in this extract (which is another term for block quotation) have been reproduced from the beginning of the first paragraph of a quoted source. This is the first paragraph continued, but our quotation is interrupted after this sentence—a break that’s signaled after a sentence-ending period by the three spaced dots of a Chicago-style ellipsis, like this. . . .
 . . . This is the second sentence from next paragraph of the quoted source. Note how the ellipsis at the beginning of this paragraph (the second ellipsis in this quotation) is preceded by a paragraph indent.

If the second paragraph in the block quotation above had started with the beginning of the quoted paragraph in the original, then the second ellipsis would have been omitted; see CMOS 13.56. But be careful. If the intended meaning of the original text wouldn’t be clear even to readers who haven’t consulted that same source, make adjustments until it is.

Q. I am seeing everywhere now that people are putting acronyms in parentheses instead of words, as in “Food and Drug Administration (FDA)” versus “FDA (Food and Drug Administration).” Can you explain to me why this is becoming more common? Parentheses have always been intended for additional information or words of further explanation, which is the opposite of an acronym. It just seems so backwards to me, and if you’re searching for what the acronym stands for, it’s hard to find because the acronym is in the parentheses and used from then on. Please help me understand the logic people are following with this style.

A. It makes sense to put the abbreviation first when the abbreviation is the better-known term—as is arguably the case for the FDA. But there’s no rule against putting the abbreviation in parentheses. In fact, when you introduce an abbreviation primarily as a space-saving device, the convention is to put the abbreviation in parentheses the first time it appears. For example,

According to the Abbreviation Appreciation Society (AAS) . . .

which is shorthand for

According to the Abbreviation Appreciation Society (which we’ll hereinafter refer to as AAS for the sake of convenience) . . .

And though it’s true that you lose a bit of clarity through abbreviation, there are a couple of strategies that can help readers. First, consider reintroducing the spelled-out term alongside the abbreviation in each new chapter or other major division in which it appears. And if your text features many otherwise unfamiliar abbreviations, consider adding a list as described in CMOS 1.44.

Q. I am citing a specific tweet according to the guidelines in CMOS 14.209. But if the tweet was published before July 2023, should I list the website as Twitter or X? Thanks!

A. Whether it’s a book from the 1970s or a post on social media, sources are generally cited as published. For books, that means recording the publisher’s name as listed on the title page, even if that name has changed or no longer exists. But when you cite an older tweet, the URL in the citation will direct readers to that same tweet (if it hasn’t been deleted) but on what is now called X (and whether the domain is twitter.com or x.com).

To make the situation clear even for readers who may not be aware of the change, add “now X” in parentheses after “Twitter” in your source citation: “. . . Twitter (now X) . . .” A post published after the name change would be cited as having been published on X (no need to add “formerly Twitter”).

Q. After years of using Chicago citation form, I have begun to wonder: What about all the folks who get left out of the citations, who go unrecognized for their work? For example, in a magazine article accompanied by striking and thoughtful illustrations or graphs or pictures, shouldn’t those workers get credit as well as the people who wrote the text? Often it’s those images that stay with us; often they are the only part of an article that people even take in. I guess I can freestyle my citations, but I wondered what your policy on this is. Thanks.

A. Though it’s nice when a footnote gives credit explicitly to one or more creators, the primary purpose of a source citation is to identify—concisely and unambiguously—the source of a quotation or other idea that is not your own. The responsibility for crediting the contributors to such a source lies with the source itself (as on the title page of a book or at the head of an article—or in a credit line that accompanies an illustration).

As you suggest, you can always name additional contributors if you want to. But unless the work of a particular illustrator or other contributor is essential to your reason for having consulted and cited the source—in which case the best place to give credit may be in the text rather than in a source citation—it’s usually best to stick to the basic citation format. Unnamed contributors, including anyone obscured behind et al. (“and others”), will simply have to take comfort in the fact that a source they’ve contributed to has been cited (and, one would hope, consulted).

(The forthcoming 18th edition of CMOS will include an example of how to credit an illustrator in addition to an author in a source citation.)

May Q&A

Q. If direct internal dialogue is set in italics, should the comma before the dialogue tag be set in italics or roman? CMOS 6.2 is very fuzzy on this. For example: “I lied, he thought, but maybe she will forgive me.” Imagine that the dialogue itself is set in italics. Should the first comma be italicized?

A. Good question! The comma after “lied” would be required both with the speaker tag (“I lied, he thought”) and without (“I lied, but maybe . . .”), so it could be said to belong to both the dialogue and the narrative. But adding quotation marks (as if the dialogue were speech) will suggest an answer:

“I lied,” he thought, “but maybe she will forgive me.”

becomes

I lied, he thought, but maybe she will forgive me.

The comma and period that are inside the closing quotation marks in the first version are in italics in the second version, whereas the comma after thought stays in roman. The difference is minuscule (without the bold for italics, would anyone notice?), and our solution is arbitrary. But it’s easy enough to understand and apply, so maybe we’ll make it a rule someday.

Q. Are menu items such as “Bananas Foster” capitalized?

A. Menu items can usually be rendered in lowercase except for any proper nouns and adjectives. For example, you might order a double cheeseburger and curly french fries followed by bananas Foster for dessert, each reflecting a named item on a menu. Only Foster, the dessert’s eponym (i.e., the person for whom it’s named, as explained in another Q&A), is capitalized.*

Similarly, you could order a Big Mac and french fries followed by a McFlurry with Oreo cookies and an iced coffee. McDonald’s applies initial capitals to all those menu items—and styles OREO in all caps—but you can follow the rules for brand names outlined at CMOS 8.69.

An exception can be made for creative or unusual names that may or may not be branded—like “Cheatin’ Vegan Nachos.” In that case, use quotation marks and, unless the item appears in lowercase on the menu, initial caps.

* Following CMOS 8.61, our preference would normally be for “french fries” (as listed there) and “bananas foster” (not listed there), but in anticipation of the forthcoming 18th edition, we’ve gone ahead and followed the entries in Merriam-Webster for both terms here (french fries but bananas Foster).

Q. Hi all, I’m wondering if “thai” in “pad thai” should be capitalized? Thank you!

A. The t in “pad thai,” like the first f in “french fry,” can remain lowercase. And though it’s common to encounter either term with an initial capital, our preference would still be to use lowercase. See CMOS 8.61 and the entries for french fry and pad thai in Merriam-Webster (terms entered in lowercase there but labeled “often capitalized” can usually remain lowercase).

See also our related answer about menu items.

Q. Is it correct to italicize the word “Titanic” when referring to the movie, or do the italics of a ship name and movie title cancel each other out (assuming quotation marks don’t get involved)? Thanks!

A. Normally, the italics would cancel each other out, as described in CMOS 8.173, which recommends so-called reverse italics—that is, roman—for the name of a ship within the title of a book or other italicized title. But reverse italics wouldn’t work when the name of the ship is the only word in the title. Instead, use italics to refer to the movie Titanic just as you’d use italics to refer to the Royal Mail Ship (RMS) Titanic.

Q. Is it alright to end a relative clause with a preposition, such as in the following: “The credit card you charge your rental fee to . . .”

A. Considering you’ve written alright rather than the standard all right, our answer would be yes (or yep). But seriously, even if you were to elevate your diction to a somewhat higher register of formality, the question you seek an answer to would still get a yes (and alright is all right with us outside formal, edited prose).

Q. Hello, editors! How would you cite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from this web page: https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights? Thanks!

A. As the text introducing the document at the United Nations website says, “The Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 (General Assembly resolution 217 A) as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations.”

Accordingly, and with a little more digging at the UN site, we’d cite the document as follows (in a note):

1. UN General Assembly, Resolution 217A (III), Universal Declaration of Human Rights, A/RES/217(III) (December 10, 1948), https://​www​.un​.org​/en​/about-us​/universal-declaration-of-human-rights.

The identifier “A/RES/217(III)” comes from the information provided by the UN General Assembly Resolutions Tables (3rd session, 1948–49) and locates the UDHR within the text of Resolution 217 (III), the International Bill of Human Rights (to which the UN text quoted above links directly). If “Resolution 217A (III)” is mentioned in the text, it need not also appear in the note. See CMOS 14.305 for more details and examples.

Q. Are footnoted source citations (not explanations or descriptions) included in the word count?

A. Most publishers would say to include source citations in your word count. Publishers use the word count to estimate how much time to allot for editing and how much space will be required in print or PDF. But if you’re an author, make sure to check with your publisher just in case.

If you’re a student, your instructor may have a preference. Otherwise, count everything. In Microsoft Word, the Word Count feature is under the Review tab; make sure to check the box next to “Includes textboxes, footnotes and endnotes” in the Word Count dialog box (if it isn’t checked already).

If you’re using Google Docs, that program ignores words in footnotes, but you can use Docs to download the document in a format that will allow you to count all the words, including MS Word (.docx). If you don’t have Word, you could try LibreOffice Writer, a free program that can open Word docs and that will count footnotes and endnotes; Writer comes in versions for Windows, macOS, and Linux. Or download your document as plain text (.txt) and open it in a program like Notepad++, the free and open-source Windows-only text editor (word count is under View > Summary).