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).
According to The Chicago Manual of Style, commas and periods are almost always placed before a closing quotation mark, “like this,” rather than after, “like this”. This traditional style has persisted even though it’s no longer universally followed outside of the United States and isn’t entirely logical.
Few readers will be puzzled by the capital D in the first example and the small d (and s) in the second. “Detective MacSwain” is treated like a name, a proper noun; “detective” (like “sleuth”) is a common noun. But what form would you choose in the following examples?
It may not be possible to go to a café or a boîte right now for pie à la mode, but there is an alternative. You can take this month’s quiz and test your knowledge of accents and other diacritical marks.
With this month’s workout, you get another chance to test your knowledge of Chicago style versus AP. Whether you know both styles or only one of them, a comparison is a good way to sharpen your skills.
Switching to italics for the occasional word or phrase borrowed from another language—and not listed in a standard English-language dictionary—can be helpful to readers.