I’m looking forward to seeing the new (15th) edition of the Chicago Manual of Style, even though Chicago isn’t the style bible where I work. A NY Times story by Dinitia Smith lays out some of the changes (aside from the inevitably extended coverage of web addresses):

¶Capital letters. The old manual recommended using small capitals in some cases, like AM and PM. But it is difficult for writers on a word processor to switch from regular size capitals to smaller. “In the new edition we now prefer lower case a.m. and p.m., with periods in between,” Ms. Samen said, “and we are saying small caps are an alternative.”
¶Ordinal numbers. The Manual used to prefer 3d and 2d, but it is now O.K. to use 2nd and 3rd, “like the rest of the world,” Ms. Samen pointed out.
¶Dates. Previous editions recommended the British style: 1 July 2003. Now one can write them “the way everybody does it in real life,” Ms. Samen said: July 1, 2003.

As a linguist (ret’d), I welcome the approval given to sentences beginning with “and” or “but” (a study apparently showed that 10% of “sentences in first-rate writing” so begin). And as an editor I am delighted that they are retaining the time-honored en dash (–), however much Jim at UJG may deplore it. Sorry, my friend, but some things are sacred.


  1. Oh, goodness me. I don’t deplore the en dash. I just said I wouldn’t miss it if it went the way of the long s or ct ligature. How often have you used a en dash, LH? Now, something I’d like to see more of, online and off, is the dagger and the double dagger instead of these insipid numbered footnotes. I wonder if there is a society of deprecated punctuation out there somewhere?

  2. And that’s another thing: bring back the ct ligature!
    Actually, I mainly use the en dash to introduce authors’ names after quotes. But, by cracky, if I have occasion to talk about post–Civil War America, you’ll see an en dash in there!
    And I do like the idea of a Society of Deprecated Punctuation;—the semicolon-dash will presumably be able to sit in a comfortable armchair and reminisce about vanished glory.

  3. “It is the first edition, for instance, to address electronic publishing seriously.”
    Thank God!!! I am using Chicago for my diss and it has been driving me crazy not to have any reasonable guidelines for citing electronic sources.

  4. A simple way to make small caps when you are writing html, is to use the tt tag — it won’t work on every display but most browsers on most computers display courier capitals as a couple of pixesls shorter than equivalent-point-size Times New Roman caps — and these are the commonly used default fonts for tt and non-tt text display. So instead of AM or a.m., write AM — I mean to say, <tt>AM</tt> — I’m not sure it works with the fonts in LanguageHat’s comments window but you get the idea.

  5. OK, OK. Leave the en dash be. I know how Ms Samen felt now, properly chastized and all.
    And I do like the idea of a Society of Deprecated Punctuation.
    I second the motion. I nominate Languagehat to be the Distinguished Chair, while I give myself up to be the Deprecated Comfy Chair. Or should that be Distinguishing and Deprecating?
    Have any here read Geoffrey Nunberg’s 1991 CSLI monograph on The Linguistics of Punctuation?

  6. That reminds me of a slang term for a deprecated punctuation I read somewhere years ago and since confirmed by Partridge: the colon-dash, or dog’s ballocks. It looks like it’s a colon-en dash. How does it usage compare to the semicolon-dash? Partridige also give’s dog’s prick as a term for exclamation mark. Take that Unix bang!

  7. Why use <tt> (which is intended for something entirely different) when HTML has a perfectly good <small> tag available, which is more likely to work in cases where people have changed their fonts from the defaults?

  8. Um, isn’t it easier to do small caps on a word processor than on a typewriter?

  9. jim: Love the Partridge terms. And thanks for the tip about Nunberg’s monograph, which I’d definitely like to read.
    Dylan: Well, let’s see how it looks:
    cap AM PM
    small AM PM
    On preview: not in the comment section it doesn’t!

  10. It looks as if your blog software is stripping out tags it doesn’t care for: there’s no <small> tag in the source for the page, so it’s not surprising there’s no effect.
    May I propose the interrobang as a member of the Society?

  11. This is a little unrelated, but: I usually avoid the incessant “And…” Russians seem to start their sentences with when I’m translating. Despite Chicago’s decree, do you think I’m right in thinking Americans would find it odd to see someone starting every other sentence with “And…”? Or should I translate it the way it’s written?
    I’m curious to hear a second opinion!

  12. Hm. I opened Pushkin’s Povesti Belkina at random and found a lot of sentences starting with no ‘but’ and a few with a ‘but/and’ but none with i ‘and.’ I next opened Boris Chernykh’s Ozimi and found a fair number of i‘s, but exclusively in dialog. There were a few a‘s in narrative, and one striking collocation: A i eshche khuzhe. So I’m not sure the repeated i‘s are a function of the language so much as of the author you’re reading. At any rate, I’d render as many of them literally as I could before it started sounding too bad in English; I think an author’s style should be carried over as far as possible.

  13. Is “1st July 2003” really such a strain to write?
    Whenever I see “July 1st 2003” I find myself scanning back to check the month again, and wondering why the units are not in order of size.
    It’s more annoying when it is more in numbers, and you get “July 11 1923”, and of course 7/11/23 really stops the reader dead in his tracks, since, as that could be 7th of November, or 11th of July, the reader is tempted to guess at the more logical order, which is day/month/year, so is forced to double-check to see if the document is American.

  14. Is “1st July 2003” really such a strain to write?
    Why not write dates as 8 digits in the form year-month-day? That way the date sorts easily by ASCII value: e.g., 20030701. (on a similar note: I’m also sure that those French are just speaking not-English to annoy us.) But seriously, folks, how about writing the month as a Roman numeral? Then the order is irrelavent. vii 2003 01. Or in different bases?

  15. Nice idea, Jim.
    Though the month appearing in words already achieves much of that separation. I’m more concerned about separating day numbers and year numbers….. Hungarians routinely use roman numerals for floor numbers and city district numbers for exactly the reason you suggest…..

  16. Year/month/day (but with hyphens rather than slashes as separators, so 2003-07-01) is an ISO standard. I’ve used it for years for dating cheques and forms (unless they specifically required another format), on both sides of the Atlantic, and have never found it misunderstood. In running text, though, it can look out of place; over-engineered, like using “military time” when an American reader would expect you to use AM or PM.

  17. Mark– Interesting. Do the Hungarians write III/4 (or something like it) meaning third floor (European, fourth loor US), room 4, or something else? My stay in Budapest was only overnight, in transit, and I never left the ground (or first) floor.
    Dylan– I’d only seen it as a file-naming convention to facilitate sorting. The page you gave says that strokes (AKA hyphens) or virgules (AKA slashes) can be dropped if compactness is desired, but it’s not clear if that’s part of the standard or not.
    Oh, and pardon the metathesis in typing “relevant” above.

  18. The en-dash is one of my favourite pieces of punction, but it may be because so many people don’t know how to use it that I take such pleasure in it.
    how about writing the month as a Roman numeral?
    I have a friend/co-worker who inherited from his former occupation as a bookseller a strange habit of writing the month as a letter of the alphabet, where January was A, February, B, etc. Needless to say recieving dated notes from him always gave one pause … Myself, i prefer 23 March 2003, simply because there is no need for an unsightly comma.
    The same aformentioned friend always uses the ct and st ligatures whenever possible, but I’ve always found that reading such text invokes an involuntary lisp. The f-ligatures exist to avoid unhappy visual crashes with the letters that follow, but I don’t know the reason for the existence of the st and ct ligatures.

  19. I know it’s just a typo, but it occurs to me that “punction” would make an excellent word, far easier to say than “punctuation,” and I think I’ll start using it in speech and hoping it catches on. “Just look at the punction in that sentence—where are the en dash–users when you need one?”

  20. LH– I see that punction is a word in the OED. The act of making a prick or puncture in something.

  21. dungbeetle says

    LH ! you are positively becoming a “Saxon” or is it an “Angle” reducing the required number of syllables to express meaningful thought.

  22. My aim is eventually to communicate entirely through grunts.

  23. dungbeetle says


  24. semicolondash says

    ok i know this board has been dead for a while but if there is anone out there…. i noticed that the semicolon dash was brought up if anyof you have any idea of how it is used in writing could you please E-mail me at and tell me how it is used. thank you in advance

Speak Your Mind