Monday, June 04, 2007

The Chicago Manual of Style -- Still ranting

Still ranting even though I'm done with the copyedits.

Shall I tell you what annoys me about Chicago Manual of Style?

– Words ending in 's' are made possessive by adding another 's'. The Jones's anachronism. Jesus's sake. Gus's furtive plaint. The ladies's favorite carol.

– Shades of color cannot be described in hyphened words. No blue-green sea monsters, red-orange incendiaries, purple-black bruises. You can call the frock an Alice-blue dress or a mustard-colored dress, but it's gotta be a blue green dress or a red and yellow striped dress.

– Adverbs modifying adjectives are not hyphened. No tightly-knit plots, only tightly knit plots. No determinedly-unpleasant villains, only determinedly unpleasant villains.

– You can cap organizations, but not titles. The Ladies Gardening Club is capped. The dowager empress of China is not.

These are not good choices. They do not contribute to clarity. They are ugly and clunky decisions. Yuck.


  1. Hi Jo,
    Thanks for sharing. I was going to buy this book, but after listening to your comments, I think I'll stick to what I know and let critters catch what I don't.

  2. No reason to own Chicago Manual of Style unless it is the house style for your publisher.

    Then, if it is, you can buy it. Probably should, in fact.

  3. Well, I confess I prefer to make words ending in 's' possessive by adding another 's.' After all, that's the way we say it, isn't it? Gus's blue suit, not Gus' blue suit. Or at least, I say it with that extra 's.'

    Not to hyphenate adverbs modifying adjectives is one of those grammar things I remember from school. I don't think the style manual made that one up. [g]

    I don't understand the non-hyphenation of double-color words, though. I guess they're just trying to cut down on punctuation clutter.

  4. ... but then, they add thousands of commas.

    Serial commas.
    (jo says darkly.)

    The security word is yozbo
    which describes my feelings.

  5. Are you a serial comma girl?

    Once upon a time, I was taught to put a comma after the next to last element in a list.

    Then I was roundly scolded and told to take it out.

    After that my hand was slapped and I was ordered to put it back in.

    That's where I am now with it--the punctuation looks more symmetrical and complete with that final comma.

    But there are other comma nuances to fret over. Compare, f'instance--

    bare stone floor
    bare, slippery floor

    Why does one adjective pair have a comma and the other doesn't, you ask? Well, I ask, anyway. Or rather, asked, back when my editor for "Dragon's Eye" kept putting in commas where I knew they didn't belong.

    Since I couldn't explain why I knew they didn't belong, just that I knew they didn't, I consulted my usage book, which says commas are NOT used to separate adjectives where the first adjective modifies the idea of the second adjective and noun.

    One test for this is to insert a conjunction, such as "and" or "but" where the comma would go. If you can do that and it still makes sense, then use a comma. Otherwise the comma is omitted.

    So, "bare and stone floor" sounds funny (because bare is modifying stone rather than floor), but "bare and slippery floor" doesn't (because bare and slippery both modify floor).

    So, a comma would be used in the second instance but not in the first.

    Now aren't you, like, deeply edified to know that?

    ~Beth, who must be a copy editor in some alternate universe

  6. Hi Beth --

    I'm a big fan of the serial (Oxford) comma. I don't generally use it, because mostly we don't in US writing.

    But since this next ms will go in under Chicago style, I will be able to indulge myself. I will serial comma to my heart's content.

    I'm pretty clear on commas, except those separating dependent fragments from the main clause -- which seem complex. I'll look into those rules sometimes in the next couple months.

  7. Anonymous1:39 PM

    It's even worse in French. And I'm French myself! I think there's different schools of thought for some of them, but this is what I was taught.

    Titles have only the déterminant (or specifier, i.e. 'the') and the following noun with caps, but not the rest.

    Family names like 'the Jones's' is simply 'les Jones' in French. 'The Turners' is simply 'les Turner'.

    I believe colours aren't hyphened except some (don't care to go trudging through old notes, it drove me nuts)

    Words ending in 'ou' are tough to pluralise: some end in 'ous', some in 'oux'.

    It's all maddening! But I still love my language ;)

  8. ""Titles have only the déterminant (or specifier, i.e. 'the') and the following noun with caps, but not the rest."""

    Titles as as in Guide de la Revolution francaise which I swear I just picked off the shelf and whose capitalization puzzles me mightily. I am pleased to know there are arcane rules. Now I know why I don't understand.