Thursday, April 24, 2014

Two Notes on Style

I'm more A.P. than Chicago, I confess. I've never looked too closely at the Chicago Manual of Style, though I own one. Parts of it, such as spelling out numbers like twenty-three, seem ridiculous to me.

I just heard two style facts in the past couple of days:

1. A.P. recently announced that as of May 1 it will no longer recommend abbreviating state names. I was just discussing this with an editor the other day. As you may remember, I hate postal abbreviations, which are generally considered inappropriate in text unless you're listing an address. (Although you would never know this from the way many people write.)

But I don't like the A.P.-approved abbreviations much better, especially the one for Illinois (Ill.), which looks terrible in just about every typeface. I constantly have to correct writers who think California is Cal. when it should be Calif., or that Wisconsin is Wisc. when it's actually Wis. No more of that. Thanks, A.P.!

2. I saw a link to this post by web designer Khoi Vinh, writing about a site called The site helps users figure out what part of a title to capitalize, if you're using what Microsoft Word calls "title case" (as opposed to the more readable "sentence case" preferred by most newspapers these days). Way too many websites publish headlines that look like this:

Town To Take Back Land From The County

Those unneeded capital letters on To, From and The make me wince. As I learned in school, you shouldn't capitalize articles or prepositions, though I seem to recall an exception for ones of five or more letters. I've forgotten what I was taught about conjunctions, but Vinh quotes Chicago as dictating lowercase for coordinating conjunctions and uppercase for subordinate conjunctions. Whew. I missed those terms at some point in my education, but here's a list of the two types (source):

Coordinating (set in lowercase):
and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet

Subordinate (set in uppercase):
after, since, when, although, whenever, as, where, because, than, before, that, though, whether, if, which, while, who, until

I note that most of the subordinate conjunctions are five or more letters long. The ones that aren't (when, as, than, that, if, who) I have mixed feelings about. I can't imagine setting as with a capital letter in a headline. Who and when clearly seem as though they deserve capitalization. That and than seem debatable. I would probably look those up to be sure.

There was one more rule from Chicago about capitalization that Vinh cited:

Capitalize the first and last word.
Well, obviously the first word is capitalized. But the last word? Why do you have to include that, when it's almost always going to be a part of speech that's covered under the general rules? And if, for some reason, a title ends with a preposition, why would it make sense to capitalize it?

Especially when so many people seem to think the word is doesn't require capitalization in titles, even though it's a verb.


Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for the capitalization site. I'm passing it on to my students, though it's not absolutely reliable. The Chicago rules are a little more complicated: they include the instruction to always lowercase as, and they require capitals for all prepositions “except when they are used ad­verbially or adjectivally.” There’s still more, in 8.157 and beyond.

What I most like about the Chicago Manual is its depth. It has the answers for odd and tricky situations. And it’s so well written.

Daughter Number Three said...

Good to hear that Chicago says "as" shouldn't be capitalized. One of these days I get my copy off the shelf and give it a chance.

Michael Leddy said...

If you do, you’ll see that I goofed. They require lowercase for prepositions “except when they are used ad­verbially or adjectivally” — just the opposite of what I typed.