How well do you know the history of The Chicago Manual of Style, otherwise known as CMOS? This month’s quiz is designed to give you a brief overview of the long history of the Manual (see question 2 for how long)—and of Chicago style.
The first edition of The Chicago Manual of Style was published in 1906, when horses outnumbered cars and typewriters and telephones had only recently become fixtures of the modern office. Yet the books and articles published back then weren’t all that different from the ones published today, and a lot of the advice in the original Manual still applies.
Since long before the days of email, the Manuscript Editing Department at the University of Chicago Press has had the honor of replying to comments and questions from users of The Chicago Manual of Style, usually typed but sometimes written in longhand or even called in by phone.
Even the most straightforward rule will be subject to an exception sooner or later. That’s why CMOS qualifies so many of its rules with usually or generally. But some exceptions are so common that they deserve to be called rules themselves.
Ellen Jovin is a cofounder of Syntaxis, a communication skills training firm based in New York City. The author of several books for business professionals, she has a BA in German studies from Harvard and an MA in comparative literature from UCLA.
Narrators and characters in novels and other creative writing can talk about whatever they want. A character might read the Chicago Sun-Times; they might say they like to sing “Drivers License” while brushing their teeth. A narrator might mention a famous poem or novel or TV show: “The host didn’t mention that he’d heard the same joke on The Simpsons.”
Creative writers sometimes mangle grammar on purpose or get creative with punctuation. At the drafting stage, we keep a dictionary and style manual at hand. When slips are unintended, we count on our copyeditors to catch them.
This month we’re doing something a little different. Instead of focusing exclusively on CMOS, this quiz highlights some of the differences between US style and UK style (commonly called British style). But we won’t be quizzing you on trunk versus boot or fries versus chips.
Editors spend a lot of time attending to the smallest of details. And though many of us also take care of the bigger stuff—rewriting for clarity, checking facts, formatting for different media, and so on—the little things will always be there, in every document, to keep us busy.
If you work with words, you’re probably familiar with the related but supposedly antithetical concepts known as prescriptivism and descriptivism. And people take sides. Either you’re a stickler (you’re a prescriptivist) or you go with the flow (you’re a descriptivist).