New Questions and Answers

Q. Back to lay/lie, which is my most unfavorite error! There is an exception to the answer you gave in a recent Q&A—“lay takes an object” EXCEPT when you’re talking about chickens! The hens are laying. (Of course, eggs are implied, but not mentioned.)

A. In grammar as in life, there will always be exceptions. Merriam-Webster does list a few intransitive senses for “lay,” the first of which is “to produce and deposit eggs.” But as you suggest, one person’s intransitive verb is another’s elliptical construction. You can call your cousins or just call [them]. And if you’re not laying eggs, what exactly is your object? (Please don’t lay into us on that one—yet another intransitive use for “lay,” in which the object requires the intervention of a preposition.)

Q. How would it be best to punctuate spoken dialogue when a word is repeated to change or clarify meaning? For example: I “like” like you. (Alternatively: I like-like you.) Meaning: I am romantically attracted to you.

A. You are referring to the phenomenon known as contrastive focus reduplication (or simply contrastive reduplication), a term coined by Jila Ghomeshi, Ray Jackendoff, Nicole Rosen, and Kevin Russell; see “Contrastive Focus Reduplication in English (The Salad-Salad Paper),” Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 22 (2004): 307–57.

Ghomeshi et al.’s paper describes the effect of this repetition as “denoting the prototypical instance of the reduplicated lexical expression” (p. 308). In other words, it’s like adding “really” or “real” before the repeated verb or noun: I don’t just like you, I really like you. To illustrate the phenomenon, the text of Ghomeshi et al.’s paper uses an en dash between repeated words and, for repeated phrases, hyphens in addition to the en dash; to show the emphasis typical of such expressions, the first term is in all caps:

I’ll make the tuna salad, and you make the SALAD–salad.

Oh, we’re not LIVING-TOGETHER–living-together. (p. 308)

CMOS does not yet weigh in on this phenomenon, but we would probably say that in ordinary prose the dashes and hyphens are unnecessary. The capital letters provide a helpful cue, but italics, which are a little less emphatic, would be more appropriate in most situations. Here’s what that would look like:

I don’t simply like you, I like you like you.

Your idea of using quotation marks for the first term is a good one, especially when italics are not an option and when ALL CAPS or SMALL CAPS would feel like too much. But quotation marks might be read as scare quotes, making them more appropriate for irony than for emphasis.

In sum, Ghomeshi et al.’s approach works well in an academic paper on contrastive reduplication. But in a novel or a story or an ordinary piece of journalism, italics alone should suffice. Anything more than that would be overkill—as in, like, overkill overkill.

Q. I see that CMOS 8.155 has “Google Docs” as an example. Would you also cap the singular “Google Doc,” or because it’s not the name of a program and just referring to a document in the Google Docs platform, would it be “Google doc,” akin to “Word doc”?

A. The answer depends on how formal you want to be and whom you are writing for and why. Many writers would consider “doc” to be too casual for formal prose. Unlike “app”—which was considered casual a generation ago but is now a universally accepted synonym for “application” or “program”—“doc” is still listed in Merriam-Webster as an abbreviation only.

But if you do write about docs instead of documents, be consistent. Your suggestion that a Google doc is akin to a Word doc is exactly right. If, on the other hand, you work for Google or you’re describing how to use Google Docs, you might write “Doc” with a capital “D”—as in, “Create a new Google Doc.” (That’s what Google does in its tutorials for teachers.)

Otherwise, refer generally to documents created or edited in Google Docs; ditto for Microsoft Word. This advice extends to spreadsheets created or edited in Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel and to slides created or edited in Google Slides or Microsoft PowerPoint.

Q. Which comes first in a bibliography, edition number or editor? What would the sequence be if there is an author, an editor, an edition number, and a specific page range of the chapter one is citing?

A. List the edition followed by the editor, according to the following pattern:

Surname, First Name. “Chapter Title.” In Book Title, 3rd ed., edited by First Name Surname, 26–42. City: Publisher, 2020.

It’s important to list the edition immediately after the title of the book, because in some cases a subsequent edition will have been edited by someone other than the editor(s) of previous editions. Few books fit this pattern neatly, but you can adapt the entry as needed. For example, here’s how you would cite a chapter in the 2019 paperback version of a 2008 second edition of a collection of novels edited by B. P. Reardon and published by the University of California Press:

Xenophon of Ephesus. An Ephesian Tale. Translated by Graham Anderson. In Collected Ancient Greek Novels, 2nd ed., edited by B. P. Reardon, 145–97. Oakland: University of California Press, 2019.

The title of the chapter is in italics in this case because the chapter reproduces a novel—though a short one (see CMOS 8.178). For citing authors like Xenophon of Ephesus who are known primarily by a given name, see CMOS 14.83.

Q. CMOS omits periods after any designator for United States organizations of any kind—e.g., US Army, US Navy, US Department of State. This format directly contradicts all official U.S. government writing guidelines. What prompted CMOS to make such a change?

A. CMOS dropped the periods in “US”—first as an option (15th ed., 2003) and then as a preference (16th ed., 2010)—in order to move toward what we think is a more logical, streamlined approach to abbreviations. According to this logic, periods are omitted from abbreviations in all caps (like “US” or “NASA”) but not from abbreviations that end in a lowercase letter (like “a.m.” and “p.m.” or “etc.” or “Dr.”). These principles are outlined in CMOS 10.4.

There are exceptions to the lowercase rule—for example, periods are never used in “kg” and “Kbps” and “mph” and many other units of measure (see CMOS 10.49).

In preferring “US” to “U.S.,” it is true that CMOS not only breaks with tradition but also contravenes the recommendations in the GPO Style Manual (the guide for the US Government Publishing Office). But to follow GPO style, you must learn a different set of rules—according to which, for example, “C.P.A.” (certified public accountant) takes periods but “CPI” (consumer price index) does not. Nor does CMOS align with the journalistic recommendations of the Associated Press, according to which “U.S.” and “U.K.” take periods (except in headlines) but “EU” and “AP” do not.

Each style has its own logic and its own set of traditions, tailored to specific types of writing and specific audiences, and Chicago is no different in being different from the others.

Q. Hi! Your guidelines for hyphenating a compound modifier before a noun cite clarity as a primary reason for doing so. But what if the compound modifier is enclosed in parentheses, such as in the phrase “global (big picture) revision”? Obviously I would hyphenate “big picture” before a noun if that modifier wasn’t enclosed in parentheses, but in this example clarity is not an issue. What say y’all?

A. Parentheses make hyphenation unnecessary except for terms that would be hyphenated in any position. So you would be right to write “big-picture revision” but “global (big picture) revision.” The same principle applies to quotation marks: Our error-prone editor, resorting to his favorite excuse, reminded us that this would be a “big picture” revision only.

Q. Why do you folks at CMOS continue to describe words whose initial letters are capitals as “capitalized.” I suppose it’s easier than the more precise formulation and could be defended as commonly understood—but it’s not. This usage is at best confusing. Words are often truly capitalized, and I’m sure that most English speakers unschooled in CMOS’s peculiar practice will take “capitalized” to mean what it says. And if “France” is said to be “capitalized,” what is “EPA”? Super-capitalized?

A. We, too, like precision. But the first definition of “capitalize” at Merriam-Webster.com is “to write or print with an initial capital or in capitals.” As you suggest, this is especially convenient for people like us who write and maintain a style guide. Rather than being obliged to write “spelled with an initial capital letter” each and every time we refer to the principle, we can simply say “capitalized.” And when we need to distinguish a word like “France” from an abbreviation like “EPA,” we have a handy go-to: the former is merely capitalized whereas the latter is in all caps.

July Q&A

Q. When an expression like “11 minutes, 52 seconds” occurs in the middle of a sentence (as in “We finished 11 minutes, 52 seconds ahead of the next car”), is a second comma required? If not, why?

A. It may seem reasonable to add a second comma, as Chicago would advise in similar scenarios—for example, after a year when it follows a day: “July 7, 2020, was a Tuesday.” But those two commas work like parentheses, which could be substituted for the commas without changing the meaning of the sentence: “July 7 (2020) was a Tuesday.” The comma in “11 minutes, 52 seconds” acts more like a conjunction, standing in for “and”:

The tortoise crossed the finish line 11 minutes, 52 seconds ahead of the hare.

or

The tortoise crossed the finish line 11 minutes and 52 seconds ahead of the hare.

A second comma is needed only if the sentence requires it for other reasons:

Beating the hare by 11 minutes, 52 seconds, the tortoise established a new record.

Other expressions that consist of a mix of related units may be handled similarly: “The team’s starting pitcher is five feet, nine inches tall.” But compare the case of a conversion, where the converted units must be fully set off from the surrounding text: “We drove 120 miles (193 km) before running out of gas,” or “We drove 120 miles, or 193 kilometers, before running out of gas.”

Q. Is it okay to use “Latinx” instead of “Latino” or “Latina”?

A. Though it is still a new word and has yet to be embraced by everyone, “Latinx” has entered the mainstream by at least one measure: Merriam-Webster added “Latinx” in 2018, and the Oxford English Dictionary followed in 2019. For many people, particularly in the United States (the OED entry includes the label “Chiefly U.S.”), “Latinx” serves as an essential gender-neutral alternative to “Latino” (masc.) or “Latina” (fem.) to refer to people of Latin American descent. “Latinx” is more inclusive than two other common alternative forms—“Latino/a” and “Latin@”—both of which invoke the binary -o and -a endings derived from Spanish. A preference for “Latinx” (or one of the other alternative forms) should be respected, and editors should query authors about their preferred usage when in doubt.

Q. I know that you use “to” and not an en dash with “from”: “from 2012 to 2016 (not from 2012–16).” But what about with “for”? Should it be “for 25 to 30 minutes” or “for 25–30 minutes”?

A. An en dash is allowed in number ranges preceded by “for”: “for 25–30 minutes.” The same goes for “in”: “in 25–30 minutes.” Try this test: if the expression would still make sense with only half the range, then an en dash would be correct (though it is always permissible to use “to” instead). “We stood there for 25 minutes” and “we completed the survey in 25 minutes” are both unambiguous. On the other hand, “we lived there from 2012,” though it is sometimes encountered in speech, is incomplete (from 2012 to when?). The preposition “between”—which pairs with “and” rather than “to”—fails the test even more conclusively (try it).

Q. If it becomes necessary to use two editions of the same title, do both editions need to be included in the bibliography?

A. If you cite both editions or rely on both editions for data, then yes, they should both be listed in your bibliography. If the two editions have different authors or different titles, or both, it’s best to list them separately:

Fowler, H. W. A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. 2nd ed. Revised and edited by Sir Ernest Gowers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965.

———. Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage. 4th ed. Edited by Jeremy Butterfield. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

If the details are substantially the same for both editions, you may list them under a single entry:

University of Chicago Press. The Chicago Manual of Style. 16th and 17th eds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010 and 2017.

For a detailed discussion of the 3-em dash in the second example above, including some caveats, see CMOS 14.67–71.

Q. When citing an article from a news website like Vox or BBC News, would you cite it as a newspaper article or as website content?

A. The distinction between a website for a news organization like Vox Media or BBC News, on the one hand, and a website for a traditional newspaper like the New York Times or the Guardian, on the other, has all but disappeared. In source citations, Chicago treats them the same, styling the name of the news website in italics as if it were a traditional newspaper:

1. Terry Nguyen, “Colleges Say Campuses Can Reopen Safely. Students and Faculty Aren’t Convinced,” Vox, June 26, 2020, https://www.vox.com/the-goods/21303102/college-reopening-fall-coronavirus-students-faculty-worry.

2. “Coronavirus: US Hits Record High in Daily Cases,” BBC News, June 26, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-53191287.

3. Jack Schneider, “Pass-Fail Raises the Question: What’s the Point of Grades?,” New York Times, June 25, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/25/opinion/coronavirus-school-grades.html.

Related mentions of Vox and BBC News in the text would also be italicized, though this choice may depend on context. As in the opening sentence of this answer, regular text would be appropriate when referring to a news organization as a company rather than as a publisher—a stylistic distinction that would also extend to the New York Times Company (see also CMOS 8.172). Regular text should also be preferred for news services such as Reuters and the Associated Press (see CMOS 14.200).

Q. Should the term “Fourth Estate,” as a collective noun for journalism and journalists, be capitalized?

A. Merriam-Webster specifies “often capitalized F&E” in its entry for the term. In citing 1837 as the first known use, M-W is likely referring to the term’s appearance in The French Revolution by Thomas Carlyle. Carlyle wrote “Fourth Estate,” but he capitalized lots of words that would remain lowercase today:

Alas, yes: Speculation, Philosophism, once the ornament and wealth of the saloon, will now coin itself into mere Practical Propositions, and circulate on street and highway, universally; with results! A Fourth Estate, of Able Editors, springs up; increases and multiplies; irrepressible, incalculable. New Printers, new Journals, and ever new (so prurient is the world), let our Three Hundred curb and consolidate as they can! (vol. 1, bk. 6, chap. 5)

This passage could almost be referring to today’s social media—which has been called a Fifth Estate in its role as an additional check on institutional power beyond the traditional press. The initial capitals, though optional, provide a helpful clue that these terms are being used in a special sense. So whereas general references to the historical concept can remain lowercased (“the three estates”), initial capitals are usually appropriate for referring to specific estates (“the Fourth Estate,” “the First and Third Estates”).

Q. I understood that compounds formed with prefixes are normally closed. However, I see a hyphen used on television and in print with all sorts of prefixes—for example, “co-founder” or “non-violent.” Are compounds formed with prefixes still normally closed? Or has spellcheck run amok?

A. Don’t worry, compounds formed with prefixes are still usually closed (see our hyphenation guide, section 4, under CMOS 7.89). But the truth about hyphens is that they tend to make compounds more legible rather than less. The deconstructionists understood this when they used a hyphen to show that the apparently straightforward act of re-membering involves piecing together the fragments of the past. But use hyphens sparingly, and only when they are truly needed. Chicago advises retaining a hyphen to prevent a doubled a or i (“intra-arterial,” “anti-intellectual”) and for certain words that might look odd without one (“pro-life,” “pro-choice”). A hyphen is also required next to a proper noun (“sub-Saharan”) or a numeral (“pre-1950”). In rare cases, a hyphen can distinguish between two meanings of a word (“recreate” vs. “re-create”). And though “cofounder” is frequently hyphenated (“co-founder” is the second-listed of equal variants in Merriam-Webster), “nonviolent” is more likely to appear closed—and neither requires a hyphen in Chicago style.

Q. Does CMOS have a recommendation on how to present conversations taking place via text messages in fiction writing?

A. Please see our post on this at CMOS Shop Talk, in our Fiction+ category.