New Questions and Answers

Q. I am working with an author who insists on referring to a photo that was taken in a certain decade as “this 1950’s photo.” Is the apostrophe needed, and is it in the correct place?

A. Chicago style is “1950s,” but the apostrophized style as you show it is accepted by some publishers.

Q. My question is about where to place the footnote superscript in a bullet list, when the whole list is linked to a source. Do you put it before the colon that introduces the list, after the colon, or at the end of the list, after the full stop?

A. The note callout can come either after the colon or at the end of the list.

Q. I work for a company that produces training material for the mining industry. A machine in the mining process uses ceramic beads to grind down rocks. We refer to these ceramic beads as “grinding media.” Is it appropriate to treat “grinding media” as a singular noun? For example: “The grinding media consists of ceramic beads with a size of 3.5 to 5.0 mm.”

A. Media is not supported as a singular in this context. When media stands for “news media,” you can use the singular, but for other meanings, media is plural and takes a plural verb. What’s more, even though the words beads is plural, there is still only one grinding medium. If the medium were an uncountable item like sand, you would probably use “grinding medium” and a singular verb without a second thought. Please see CMOS 5.14 and also 5.250 (s.v. medium).

Q. I am writing a research paper and would like to use parenthetical in-text citations using author-date style. However instead of including a reference list, I would like to include a bibliography, using notes-bibliography style. I thought this might be appropriate since I am writing a research paper for a course in the humanities but didn’t want to include footnotes. My professor is allowing us to use MLA or Chicago/Turabian citation style and hasn’t given us a lot of specifics.

A. A reference list (unlike a bibliography) is set up to match the parenthetical citations in the text. The in-text citations show author and year (Jones 1995), and the reference list entries begin with author and year:

Jones, Denise. 1995. Title. etc.

A bibliography entry, on the other hand, buries the year at the end of the entry. If you want to devise your own system instead of using one that is time-tested and globally employed, be prepared to defend it. And get permission from your instructor.

Q. This Q&A appears on your site:

Q. In a bibliography where the title of an unsigned article is a date (“1939: The Beginning of the End”), does the bibliography begin with this entry, or is it alphabetized according to its spelled-out word?

A. It’s usual to file a title like that under the spelled-out version of the number, in this case, nineteen. However, in lists where many such titles begin with numbers, you might rather group them all in numerical order at the beginning. In rare instances you could post an important title at both locations or add a cross-reference directing the reader to the location of the full citation.

My question is: Why nineteen? What if the title were 1,939 Pieces of Candy? The convention of saying “nineteen thirty-nine” for a date is simply that, a convention. For 2014 there is not yet a common convention: I have heard both “two thousand fourteen” and “twenty fourteen.” I would think that the correct method is to alphabetize by spelling out each number individually. Also, in the computer age when tables and other finding aids are programmatically generated, using the number-by-number approach requires only ten lines of computer code. Your existing answer would require an infinite number of lines, one for each number.

A. This is why good human indexers are better than computers: they have common sense. Humans can style the entry in the form they expect most readers to look under, and they can judge when extra help is needed.

Q. I’m on a team editing kids’ textbooks. One book includes a poster showing shapes (circle, square, triangle). Should this be referred to as a shapes poster? Is it an example of the genitive case 4 (at CMOS 5.20), requiring an apostrophe: shapes’ poster? If not, is it a temporary compound noun? Could it be written either way, based on personal preference? Does genitive case 7 help at all? A poster of shapes = shapes’ poster.

A. No apostrophe is needed because shapes is an attributive noun. “A shapes poster” is grammatically akin to “a commodities trader” and “a weapons dump” in containing a noun (singular or plural) that is used attributively as an adjective (shapes, commodities, weapons). You can read about attributive nouns at CMOS 5.24, “Nouns as Adjectives.”

Q. What is the order of dates in an in-text citation when more than one author is cited? Is it ascending by date? For example: (Martin 1986; Halliday 2000; Butt et al. 2003)? Or doesn’t the order matter?

A. The order in which author-date citations are given may depend on the order they were quoted or referred to in the text, or it may reflect the relative importance of the items cited. If neither criterion applies, alphabetical or chronological order may be appropriate. Unless citation order is prescribed by a particular journal style, the decision is the author’s and must not be edited without the author’s permission. Please see CMOS 15.30.

Q. The author of a scholarly book in media studies cites Alexa more than once as a source in the bibliography as a website (As in “Alexa, what are the top . . .?”). Does Alexa belong in a scholarly bibliography, and if so, is it in fact a website?

A. There is no aspect of social media that is outside the scope of scholarly research. If someone is writing a dissertation on an aspect of Alexa, they’re going to be quoting Alexa. Bibliographies normally contain websites, so Alexa.com is a qualified candidate. A single Alexa announcement may be quoted in the text or in a note along with relevant information (access date, device, software version number, browser, operating system, etc.), rather than in a formal citation. A bibliography entry for individual announcements is unnecessary.

Q. How would you handle the plural of a term of art like “artist’s proof,” which itself contains a possessive as the first word, when referring to proofs of multiple artists? It seems clear that we would say “artist’s proofs by the engraver Combet” to refer to several proofs by the single engraver Combet. I think we would also say “artist’s proofs by the two engravers Combet and Haley” (referring to several proofs by each engraver), because we are using the plural of the term of art or unit “artist’s proof,” which is shorthand for “a proof of an engraving by an artist.” Stated differently, adding an “s” to proofs is sufficient to make the term of art “artist’s proofs” plural, and we don’t need to use the plural of the first term as well when two different engravers are involved, since we are still just referring to multiple examples of the term of art “artist’s proof.” We should distinguish this case from the use of “artist” as a normal possessive and not as part of a term of art, in which case we would need to use the plural of the possessive (artists’) when referring to proofs by several artists, but I don’t think we would say “artists’ proofs by the two engravers Combet and Haley” when using “artist’s proofs” as a term of art. If we decide that the possessive of “artist” is singular in the case of multiple proofs by a single engraver and plural in the case of multiple engravers, we are still left with the unclear case when the number of engravers is not specified, i.e., when just using the term “artist’s proofs.” An analogous situation might arise with a term like “baker’s dozen” but not with normal possessives like “manufacturers’ coupons.”

A. Right.

Q. How many spaces should there be between the end of a paragraph and a subheading? How many spaces after the subheading and the start of the new paragraph?

A. Chicago paper-writing style is covered in Kate Turabian’s Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. Comprehensive tip sheets for setting up a paper are available for free at the Turabian.org website. For subhead spacing, please see Turabian Tip Sheet 7, which advises two blank lines above a subhead and one blank line below.

Q. I just read your explanation of the use of Ms with a period as a shortened combination of Miss and Mrs. Boy are you wrong. Please read the feminist history and arguments of the early 1970s.

A. This use of Ms. predates the 1970s by several decades. Please read your dictionary!

June Q&A

Q. As a proofreader, I always mark a bad break when a line ends with an em dash and then a divided word:

This part of the street was relatively modest—boast-
ing a bank.

But I can’t find anything in CMOS that actually says this is necessary. Am I missing it? I also work for one publisher who considers it a bad break when an em dash appears after the portion of the word carried over:

This part of the street was relatively mod-
est—boasting a bank.

Is that rule any more or less valid than the preceding one?

A. Chicago’s guidelines for proofreading word division (2.112, 17th ed.) don’t prohibit such breaks, pointing out that the cure might be worse than the disease, resulting in a squished or loose line.

Q. I am editing a manuscript for an international journal that uses Chicago style. An author has cited a monograph. I cannot find an entry for Chicago’s guidelines on monograph formatting in the index or in chapter 14. Can you tell me where I should look?

A. Monograph is another word for book, usually on a specialized subject and written by a single author. Cite a monograph as you would a book. Details and examples begin at CMOS 14.100 (17th ed.).

Q. How can I look up words like “illegal alien” or “lady” that are hurtful to the people described?

A. Use search terms like “bias-free writing,” “slurs to avoid,” or “offensive terms.” To find general advice on how to write sensitively, you can search for “inclusive language” or “conscious style.” CMOS sections 5.251–60 might help (“Bias-Free Language”). You can also find lots of advice at Conscious Style Guide.

Q. Help! Here’s the problematic sentence:

Her efforts, along with the generosity of the Hearts and Art Ball Host Committee, Live Auction cochairs Joe Smith and Jane Smith, the Friends of the Museum, and our beloved patrons, have made this signature event possible.

I’m being told by a higher-up to remove the comma before “along with” and the comma after “patrons” because, in her words, “along is a preposition.” I think the commas (or better perhaps, em dashes) need to be there, but I can’t explain why. Can you give me a leg to stand on? Rewriting is not an option.

A. Your higher-up is correct that “along with” is a (double) preposition, but that does not mean commas are incorrect. In fact, the commas are useful in marking the parenthetical nature of the long and complex (and awkward) prepositional phrase:

Her efforts (along with the generosity of the Hearts and Art Ball Host Committee, Live Auction cochairs Joe Smith and Jane Smith, the Friends of the Museum, and our beloved patrons) have made this signature event possible.

The sentence is so awkward, perhaps one of your generous donors would pay the typesetting costs for changing it to something like the following.

This signature event has been made possible by her efforts, along with the generosity of the Hearts and Art Ball Host Committee, the Live Auction cochairs Joe Smith and Jane Smith, the Friends of the Museum, and our beloved patrons.

Your higher-up may also object to the comma after efforts in the revised sentence, and it is more optional there, but it will help readers navigate the complex sentence.

Q. Hello. A term you used in your hyphenation table is slightly incorrect, I believe. You call the units of measurement (m, kg, ft.) “abbreviations.” (I assume that things like MB and GHz also fall into this category?) According to Merriam-Webster, an abbreviation is “a shortened form of a written word or phrase used in place of the whole word or phrase. ‘Amt’ is an abbreviation for ‘amount.’ ‘USA’ is an abbreviation of ‘United States of America.’” That has nothing to do with the examples in the table.

A. You are right. However, in CMOS the umbrella term abbreviation is used for acronyms, initialisms, and contractions, as well as for shortened (abbreviated) forms (ibid., vol., prof., etc.), except where greater specificity is required. This is stated more fully at 10.2. I’m sorry if it caused you confusion or inconvenience.

Q. Should hundred be repeated in spelled-out number ranges such as “one to three hundred” (meaning 100 to 300)?

A. Because “one to three hundred” can be mistaken for “1 to 300,” it’s important to spell out “one hundred” anytime there could be the least doubt.

Q. This is sort of a dangler, and yet it seems OK: “As a captain, most of my duties are administrative.” I rewrote it to be safe, but is that kind of construction OK?

A. Not OK! That’s a dangler of the type an editor should not let pass. Good catch.

Q. I am unclear on whether you always use brackets for ellipses that the author quoting the material has inserted. For example, in this quote, the quoting author has inserted ellipses. Would every instance of ellipses therefore be bracketed? “Make manifest the nature of the Moral-Mental-Physical Conflict; . . . discern a Pattern for Successful Operations; . . . help generalize Tactics and Strategy; . . . find a basis for Grand Strategy.”

A. It depends. In a work where all the ellipses mean that the writer has omitted a part of the original when quoting, readers will understand what’s going on and there’s no need for brackets. It gets tricky if the same document quotes from an original that has an ellipsis in it. That means there are two kinds of ellipses, and they need to be distinguished somehow. And that’s when brackets are used for the author’s own ellipses. (Sometimes it’s a good idea to explain this method to your readers.) An alternative is to skip the brackets and write “(ellipsis in original)” when needed.

Q. How do I cite a page or folio number if that number was incorrectly printed on the page—something that happens occasionally in early books? Page numbers might run 14, 15, 26, 17, 18. For the one after 15, should I use “26 [16]”?

A. Square brackets are indeed used in this way for editorial interpolations, but “26 [16]” might not be crystal clear to many readers. Instead, write something like “[16] (original page misnumbered as 26).”

Q. To correctly style the plural of a word as word, or phrase as phrase, (1) do we italicize the core word and leave the s or es ending in roman type: An excessive number of hads, hases, hises, hes, shes, ises, whereases, yeses, nos, etc.? Or (2) should the items be in roman: An excessive number of hads, hases, hises, hes, shes, ises, whereases, yeses, nos, etc.? Or (3) should the items be in roman, enclosed in quotation marks: An excessive number of “hads,” “hases,” “hises,” “hes,” “shes,” “ises,” “whereases,” “yeses,” “nos,” etc.? Please, no recasts.

A. None of these choices are beautiful to look upon. Rewording is the solution (e.g., “too many instances of had, has, his, he, she, is, whereas, yes, no, etc.”), but since that is not an option for you, go with (2) in the spirit of CMOS 17, 7.14.

Q. Phone numbers. The US convention is sort of (Area Code) PRE-Number. International is all over the place. Any advice on presenting these in a consistent manner? In particular, I want to set a style rule for my company, which is US-based but has mostly international customers, so I want to include the country code as well. I’m leaning toward spaces separating the elements: +1 222 333 4567. Any thoughts?

A. CMOS 17 has a new section covering telephone numbers (9.57) that agrees with you on the use of spaces instead of hyphens for international numbers.

Q. I’m editing an advertising brochure that says, “With more cruise departures from more convenient ports, you’ll find an itinerary that’s just right for you.” A colleague asks, “More than what or whom? You should not use a comparative word like more without providing the comparison. More than other cruise lines offer? With more cruise departures from more convenient ports than other cruise lines offer?” Is this true or have we evolved a little in terms of ad copy?

A. It’s the peculiar privilege of advertisers to weasel out of specifics. “We give you more!” is a time-honored pitch. Your colleague sounds like a stand-up kind of person whose sensibilities might not be tough enough for this game. Caveat emptor.