Section 8.1 in the Spotlight

Chicago’s Preference for the “Down” Style

It’s not always obvious whether a word should be capitalized. We know to cap proper names of people, holidays, cities, and countries. But what about words like dad, state, or president? Confusion arises when the same word is capped in one context and lowercased in another:

{Hey, Mom—time for dinner!}
{My mom is always late for dinner.}

{The check was issued by the State of Illinois.}
{The state I live in issued the check.}

{You can leave your name for Senator Wei.}
{When will the senator return?}

It’s traditional to lowercase a word when it’s used in a generalized sense as opposed to being the name of someone or something. The second example of each pair above shows a generic use: mom, state, and senator.

Chicago’s preference for the sparing use of capitalssometimes referred to as a “down” style—is stated at CMOS 16, section 8.1. In fact, Chicago style lowercases some words that other style manuals might capitalize. Although Brussels (the Belgian city) is capitalized as a proper name, Chicago prefers brussels sprout for the vegetablewhich is not necessarily from Brussels (see 8.60). President Truman is capitalized, but the president is not (see 8.18–32). Chicago lowercases chapter 12 in running text (“an example occurs in chapter 12”), but in certain newspapers that have their own style guides, you would see that styled as “an example occurs in Chapter 12.”

This is just one of many areas in which more than one style may be considered “correct,” and it’s up to writers to be consistent in whichever style they choose.


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