New Questions and Answers

Q. It just occurred to me that “Achilles’ heel” is wrong, according to CMOS 7.17. It should be “Achilles’s heel,” right?

A. Technically, yes: “Achilles’ heel” is contrary to Chicago style, which would call for “Achilles’s heel.” CMOS 7.19 addresses the issue directly: “Classical proper names of two or more syllables that end in an eez sound form the possessive in the usual way (though when these forms are spoken, the additional s is generally not pronounced).” For example, “Euripides’s tragedies.” But like Achilles’s mother, we failed to cover “Achilles’ heel,” a term that therefore remains vulnerable to stylistic ambiguity. Thankfully, Merriam-Webster is there to shield us from the arrows of editorial uncertainty. We defer to that resource and consider “Achilles’ heel” as an established exception to Chicago style.

Q. We are adding Indigenous Peoples’ Day to our company calendar. Is the apostrophe appropriate, as with Presidents’ Day, or no apostrophe, as in Veterans Day?

A. According to CMOS 7.27, “Although terms denoting group ownership or participation sometimes appear without an apostrophe (i.e., as an attributive rather than a possessive noun), Chicago dispenses with the apostrophe only in proper names (often corporate names) that do not officially include one.” So, absent any officially sanctioned spelling for the holiday, we would write “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”

If you compare named days that involve an irregular plural, you’ll see that it’s not a simple matter of possession versus attribution. There’s a Children’s Day and a Women’s Day and a Men’s Day—but try that without the possessive (Men Day?). Hence Chicago’s preference for the possessive.

As for “Presidents’ Day,” according to Title V, section 6103, of the United States Code (which covers federal holidays and is usually cited as 5 U.S.C. § 6103), that holiday is still officially Washington’s Birthday but has been expanded to honor other presidents. “Presidents’ Day” demonstrates Chicago style, legal name or not. Veterans Day is also named in Title V, without the apostrophe, and because it’s official, that’s how we style it when referring to the national holiday in the United States.

Which brings us back to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. If you’re following Chicago style, use the apostrophe. If you’re following Associated Press style (and the AP Stylebook), leave it out. But where the holiday is official (as it now is in many states in the US), follow whatever the official style might be. For example, in North Carolina it’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but in Maine it’s Indigenous Peoples Day (no apostrophe).

Q. Hello! What is the preferred formatting when calling something something else? (Sorry, that was confusing.) For example, in the sentence “People from Minnesota are called Minnesotans,” or the sentence “We call it baseball,” would the words “Minnesotans” and “baseball” need any special formatting, such as italics or quotes? I wasn’t sure if the rule for “words as words” applies in this case, and I’ve struggled to find a definitive answer elsewhere. Thank you!

A. CMOS doesn’t discuss this problem specifically, but thanks to your question we now have a name for it: “calling something something else.” If we had to formulate a rule, we might say that italics or quotation marks are usually unnecessary for words introduced with a form of the verb to call but may be used to highlight the word or phrase as a key term. In CMOS, you’ll mostly see an absence of italics or quotation marks after call: “The front of the leaf, the side that lies to the right in an open book, is called the recto” (CMOS 1.5). Or “The author’s own statement about a work is usually called a preface” (CMOS 1.41).

But starting with the seventeenth edition, we made an exception in chapter 5, where we agreed to italicize the names of grammatical concepts (many of which are unfamiliar even to editors):

Pronouns with antecedents are called anaphoric pronouns. (Anaphora refers to the use of a word or phrase to refer to or replace one used earlier.) (CMOS 5.28)

Sets of word forms by which a language differentiates the functions that a word performs in a sentence are called the word’s cases. (CMOS 5.35)

But here’s an interesting case of a different kind:

We is sometimes used by an individual who is speaking for a group . . . This latter use is called “the editorial we.” (CMOS 5.47)

Outside of chapter 5 we would have written that it’s called the editorial we (as we did in chapter 5 in CMOS 16)—italics for we as a word, but otherwise no special treatment for the phrase as a whole. For the sake of consistency, however, we put the phrase in quotation marks. (Alternatively, we could have written that it’s called the editorial “we”—reversing the roles of italics and quotation marks.)

In sum, consider whether you are focusing on the word or phrase as a word or phrase, or simply offering a description. Then be consistent about it—and watch out for tricky cases.

Q. When breaking dialogue with narration (where the verb used is not describing speaking), how should the punctuation appear? “Yes, this is fine,” she stood up. “Please go ahead.” Or should it be: “Yes, this is fine.” She stood up. “Please go ahead.” What if it were “nodded” instead of “stood up”? What about in: “Look,” she pointed to the road, “a blue car.” Do we need to add “said” (or similar verbs) here? Thanks for your time.

A. We’ve seen questions like this before. They usually come down to one thing: Can a person do something other than speak or write their words or communicate them using a signed language? In other words, can you smile the word hello or nod to someone in English? If you agree that people do not literally stand or nod or point—or smile—their words, structure your dialogue accordingly:

“Yes, this is fine,” she said, standing up. “Please go ahead.”

or

“Yes, this is fine.” She stood up. “Please go ahead.”

Nodding, however, comes closer to speech than standing does, and some editors would allow a construction like this one:

“Yes, this is fine,” she nodded. “Please go ahead.”

This leeway might be extended to smiling and shrugging and similar gestures that play a supporting role for many people when they talk. Pointing is also a gesture, but many editors would draw the line before allowing that verb as a dialogue tag. Instead, they’d edit your example to maintain a distinction between speaking and pointing:

“Look,” she said, pointing to the road, “a blue car.”

or

“Look.” She pointed to the road. “A blue car.”

or

“Look”—she pointed to the road—“a blue car.”

Opinions vary. Editors can help by asking an author first before making wholesale changes.

Q. What is the convention for abbreviating thousands, millions, and billions in monetary amounts? I have seen K, M, and B, but I’ve also seen millions represented by MM and thousands represented by M. Thanks!

A. You’ve identified two commonly used conventions in finance, one derived from Greek and the other from Latin, but neither one is standard.

Starting with the second convention, M is used for amounts in the thousands and MM for amounts in the millions (usually without a space between the number and the abbreviation—e.g., $150M for $150,000 and $150MM for $150 million). This convention overlaps with the conventions for writing roman numerals, according to which a thousand is represented by M (from mille, the Latin word for “thousand”). Any similarity with roman numerals ends there, however, because MM in roman numerals means two thousand, not a thousand thousands, or one million, as in financial contexts (the year 2020 in roman numerals is MMXX). Likewise, MMM in roman numerals means three thousand, not a thousand times a thousand times a thousand, or one billion. (For an overview of roman numerals, see CMOS 9.65–67.)

According to the other convention, K is used instead of M for thousands (as in $150K for $150,000), because K stands for kilo, the Greek-derived term often used as a prefix to mean “thousand.” This meaning is standard in the sciences, where the kilogram (abbreviated “kg” and equal to 1,000 grams) is the base unit of mass (see CMOS 10.54). K is also used in computing to mean “kilobyte,” but mostly in commercial contexts as a shortening of KB (see CMOS 10.49). To further muddy the waters, K can also mean “kelvin,” which is the base unit of temperature.

Nonetheless, if K is used for thousands, then according to the same convention M (mega) would be used for millions, and billions would be represented by G (giga). If B is typically used instead of G, the reason is obvious: even if you don’t know anything, you might guess that B means “billion.” G, on the other hand, is a slangy shorthand for “grand,” as in a thousand dollars, which might disqualify it as an abbreviation for billions in financial contexts. (Nor is the meaning of “billion” itself an entirely settled matter; see CMOS 9.8.)

So we’re back to square one. Unlike the conventions in science, which are universal (assuming you adhere to the international system of units, or SI), the conventions in finance vary, not only by country but also among institutions, even within the same country. For that reason, in financial contexts it’s best to define up front the convention you are using—whether it’s M and MM and MMM or K and M and B (or G) or something else—to make sure your readers are on the same page. See also CMOS 9.24.

Q. Always such a pleasure to see the Q&A again! I want to ask you about a journal format that is new to me: one that simply numbers its articles sequentially. This was my first go at citing it:

Amare, Mulubrhan, Jane Mariara, Remco Oostendorp, and Menno Pradhan. “The Impact of Smallholder Farmers’ Participation in Avocado Export Markets on the Labor Market, Farm Yields, Sales Prices, and Incomes in Kenya.” Land Use Policy 88, 104168 (November 2019): 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landusepol.2019.104168.

Then I realized that I’d better put the word “article” in front of the article number to keep people from thinking it’s a typo for an issue number or even, in this case, for page numbers. Also on second thought, I question the need to add 1–13 (the page nos.) at the end because all the articles in this volume have page nos. of the form 1–n. It’s true that readers may be interested to know in advance how long the article runs, but Elsevier doesn’t display the page numbers on its site; you have to open up the article and jump to the end, whatta pain. Have you finalized a rule for this new animal? Many thanks as always.

A. You’re describing an article published according to a continuous publishing model (see CMOS 1.82). Your description is nicely accurate, and your citation very nearly matches our own. CMOS 14.174 shows how we would cite such an article. Yours would be cited in a bibliography entry as follows:

Amare, Mulubrhan, Jane Mariara, Remco Oostendorp, and Menno Pradhan. “The Impact of Smallholder Farmers’ Participation in Avocado Export Markets on the Labor Market, Farm Yields, Sales Prices, and Incomes in Kenya.” Land Use Policy 88 (2019): 104168. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landusepol.2019.104168.

In a note, the format would be similar but may also include a citation to a specific page in the article:

. . . Land Use Policy 88 (2019): 5, 104168. . . .

You’re right, however, that adding the word “article” before the article ID and including a page range in the bibliography entry might be helpful, and there’s little harm in including those:

. . . Land Use Policy 88 (2019): 1–13, article 104168. . . .

Chicago doesn’t require these elements—nor does the exportable citation data from ScienceDirect include them—but they are helpful. Until we get a unified database for all the sources in the world, source citation will be as much art as science. Take our recommendations and adapt them to specific cases as needed.

Q. In your view, is it permissible in notes/biblio to decide on either “Fall” or “Autumn” for periodical dates and make it consistent, or do we have to follow the individual periodical’s nomenclature?

A. When citing a source, it’s best to use words that reflect the source itself. If an issue of a journal says “Fall,” use “Fall.” If it says “May/June,” use that. When readers follow a citation where it leads and find that the cited facts of publication match those recorded with the source itself, their confidence in your work will grow.

September Q&A

Q. Should “time travel” be hyphenated as a verb? CMOS 5.25 says it’s okay to use nouns as verbs, but there are no two-word examples. “Time travel” isn’t even in M-W!

A. According to our hyphenation guide at CMOS 7.89 (sec. 2, “phrases, verbal”), a verb phrase that doesn’t appear in the dictionary may be left open. Each of the examples in CMOS also appears in Merriam-Webster (where it is either closed, hyphenated, or open): babysit, handcraft, air-condition, fast-talk, strong-arm, sucker punch. Because “time travel” does not, it may be left open. (By the way, if you figure out how to travel through time, or time travel, and end up crossing paths with the Time Traveler from the classic novel by H. G. Wells, please say hello from us.)

Q. Hi all! I hope everyone is staying safe. I have a quick question. Should it be “What will my teacher say about my never returning to class?” or “What will my teacher say about me never returning to class?” Citations will help. I struggle with this frequently. Thank you so much! Take care.

A. Either one is acceptable, though “my” has traditionally been considered to be the more correct choice in sentences like yours. See CMOS 7.28 for an explanation and examples. For a grammar-based explanation, see CMOS 5.114.

The choice of “my” depends on reading “returning” as a gerund, which is a verb’s present participle acting as a noun. A noun can be the object of a preposition, and if “returning” is the object of the preposition “about,” then “my” is correct because a possessive pronoun is required before a noun. (For example, one would write about “my dog,” not “me dog.”)

But “me” is common in such constructions; it’s also grammatically defensible. If you read “me” as the object of the preposition “about,” then “returning” would function as a present participle that modifies the pronoun “me”—as in, “They saw me returning to class the other day.”

In sum, traditionalists may balk at “me” and the so-called fused participle that it creates, but “me” will have its supporters—and in some cases it’s the better choice.

Q. “ZIP Code” is trademarked and essentially an invention by the USPS. They created it with a capitalized “C.” Why do you insist that this “C” is rendered in lowercase?

A. You are right that the United States Postal Service writes “ZIP Code” with a capital C—and ZIP in all caps. You’re also right about us. Though CMOS doesn’t specifically rule on how to capitalize the term, it has rendered it as “zip code” (all lowercase) since it first appeared in the Manual in 1982 (in the 13th ed.). Our editors at that time would have been conforming such passing mentions to the main entries in Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (8th ed., Merriam-Webster, 1973). The eighth Collegiate had “zip code n, often cap Z&I&P” (those are ampersands between the letters Z and I and P)—the same as in the current dictionary from Merriam-Webster. (Compare the entry for “Kleenex,” which is listed with a capital K and noted as a trademark.)

Merriam-Webster and CMOS aren’t the only influential resources that don’t fully conform to Postal Service usage. The 2020–2022 edition of the Associated Press Stylebook says to write “all-caps ZIP for Zone Improvement Plan, but always lowercase the word code.” But don’t despair. We are filing your question with the many other suggestions from our readers for future editions of CMOS. Though “zip code” may remain our preferred style for general references to the numeric locator that in the US has become practically synonymous with “neighborhood,” we’ll make a note to acknowledge the trademarked styling as well.

Q. CMOS does not mention uses of the en dash for conflict or connection, as in “the liberal–conservative debate” or “the Radical–Unionist coalition.” Should it be inferred that CMOS opposes such uses?

A. CMOS would never oppose the consistent application of sound editorial logic, but we try to tailor our recommendations to serve both editors and readers. En dashes bump up against the limits of this goal. Editors tend to love them, but readers who haven’t been editors or proofreaders may not even notice them. If Chicago has resisted adding the sense of “between” or “and” to the more common use of the en dash as “to,” that’s the primary reason (see CMOS 6.80).

Because we do see the value of using an en dash in a phrase like “Ali–Frazier fight” or “Epstein–Barr virus.” Those dashes signal that you’re not referring to a fight or a virus that involves somebody with a hyphenated last name. And we wouldn’t want a “liberal–conservative debate” to be read as a debate about conservatives who are liberal, as a hyphen might imply. But if readers won’t get this from those en dashes (most of us—even those of us who can discern an en dash from a hyphen—will rely on context to figure out the intended meaning), is it worth an editor’s trouble to apply them?

True, we already take the time to convert hyphens to en dashes in number ranges, mostly because we know that “99–100” is a hair more legible than “99-100.” But pattern matching makes this easy to do. And we usually replace a hyphen with an en dash in “pre–Civil War” and the like—in the possibly vain hope that readers are more likely to see at a glance that it’s not a war that’s “pre-Civil.”

But we would need to be confident that more readers have become en dash literate before adding to our existing recommendations. If that ever happens, Chicago’s recommended uses for the character also known as Unicode 2013 may end up expanding.

Q. According to CMOS 6.51, “Expressions of the type that is are traditionally followed by a comma. They are best preceded by an em dash or a semicolon rather than a comma, or the entire phrase they introduce may be enclosed in parentheses or em dashes.” My question is this: Would it still be acceptable to use a comma in such expressions rather than the em dash or parentheses? Thank you!

A. Technically, yes: two commas would still be considered correct. But the problem with that first comma—and the reason we discourage it—is that unlike dashes, semicolons, and opening parentheses, which are forward looking, commas tend to be backward looking. For example,

The committee, that is, its more influential members, wanted to drop the matter.

Does the phrase “that is” in the example above belong with the words that come before it, or does it belong to the words that follow? A stronger mark solves this potential for a momentary misreading by providing more structure to the sentence:

The committee (that is, its more influential members) wanted to drop the matter.

Another solution is to simply omit the second comma:

The committee, that is its more influential members, wanted to drop the matter.

That last approach is fine for casual prose, but formal prose usually calls for the more structured punctuation choices recommended in CMOS.

Q. Hi, I see that CMOS 8.36 discusses kinship names and when to capitalize versus when to lowercase. I’m wondering about a term like “sir” or “ma’am” used in direct address: “Yes, ma’am” or “Yes, Ma’am”? I think probably the former, but what do you recommend? Thank you.

A. You’re right to prefer lowercase. Terms like “sir” and “ma’am” are almost never used literally as titles these days. Instead they’re more often like common nouns or pronouns, as in “Hello, stranger,” or “Hey, you.” So unless you are transcribing a conversation with Sir Paul McCartney or Dame Judi Dench (two modern celebrities on whom titles have been conferred; see CMOS 8.32), write “Yes, sir” and “Yes, ma’am.” Compare “Greetings, Doctor.” In that case, “Doctor” is a proper noun standing in for a person’s name in the form “Dr. Surname.” But these distinctions can be fuzzy; when in doubt—or to convey a less formal tone—use lowercase.

Q. How do you cite a photograph of a piece of art that is in a book chapter with two authors and the book has several editors? Do you need all of the creators—photographer, artist, authors, and editors? Thank you!

A. We get a lot of questions like yours. They generally go something like this: “How do I cite a picture / drawing / marginal annotation / coffee mug stain / whatever that I found in a book?” The answer is generally the same: describe the object in your text; then cite the book accordingly.

So in your text you would describe the artwork as needed—for example, what it is and who created it and when; assuming you’ve done that, there’s usually no need to give additional details in a note. Nor would you need to name the photographer as credited in the book, a redundant move that would amount to citing another source’s cited sources.

Then you would simply cite the book as a whole and provide a page number where the image may be found. If the chapter itself is relevant to the artwork or to your discussion, you will want to cite the book in terms of the chapter. Here’s the format you would use:

1. Author One and Author Two, “Title of Chapter,” in Title of Book, ed. Editor One, Editor Two, and Editor Three (City: Publisher, 2020), 147.

If, however, the artwork is central to your discussion—or you’re a student and your instructor requires it—you may want to cite the artwork itself. In that case, it would be best to track down its location in a gallery or online and to confirm the relevant details there rather than relying on the secondary source information in the book (though the book should give you a head start on finding the artwork and the information about it that you will need). Examples may be found at CMOS 14.235.