Good-bye, ibid.; hello, tweet. “3-D” or “3D”? “Fewer” or “less”? “Hi Mom” or “Hi, Mom”? If you’re a writer, editor, or simply an unreconstructed grammar nerd, there’s a good chance that at some point you’ve sought an answer to such questions in The Chicago Manual of Style. First published in 1906, the Manual has, over its 100-plus-year history, become one of the most widely referenced arbiters of language and style usage. According to its website, it has sold more than a million copies across its editions, and its online component has had more than 200,000 recurring visitors since 2010. Now, this fall, the University of Chicago Press will release its 17th edition of the Manual—the first since the 16th came out in 2010.
What’s different about this edition? Carol Fisher Saller, who’s been part of the Manual team for more than 20 years, in both editorial and marketing roles, says several of the updates reflect changes in how we talk about the internet. For example, the Manual now recommends writing “Internet” as “internet,” and the hyphen in the word “e-mail” has been nixed. Such decisions aren’t arrived at easily. Members of the Manual team quibble at length over such changes in group emails. “Those two issues we continued to debate in-house right down to the last minute,” she says. “It usually boils down to there being one person on the team who cares the most, or who has the most authority.”
Being ahead of the curve when it comes to internet culture is crucial, given that each new edition must remain current for several years. The Manual team learned this the hard way with Twitter. “The 16th edition of the Manual doesn’t include the words ‘tweet’ or ‘Twitter,’ ” Saller says. “That’s something we’ve been looking forward to rectifying for about seven years.” Back in 2010, she says, “We just weren’t certain that Twitter would be more than a flash in the plan. And we guessed wrong. It’s not that we didn’t think it would remain popular, it’s that we didn’t know whether it would become a source that required citation.” Who knew that writers covering the president of the United States would have to cite Twitter so frequently?
Technological change has even affected the niche world of academic writing. For example, the Manual is now cautioning against the term “ibid.,” which is used in footnotes when the source being cited is referenced in the preceding footnote. “It’s a centuries-old convention for scholars in print publications,” Saller says. But in e-books, “each note appears all by itself when you click on the note number. If all the note says is ‘ibid.,’ without showing the previous note, it’s pretty much useless.”
The 17th edition of the Manual will also address other grammar and usage developments that have become more pressing in recent years, such as “the issue of when it’s appropriate or inappropriate to use the pronoun ‘they’ with a singular verb. That’s a good example of the kind of thing we address more fully this time around,” Saller says.
Saller says the Manual team fields letters from readers for ideas about what changes to implement. Many of these reader requests are enlightening, but some will never be granted. “People still love to beg us to reinstate two spaces after a period,” Saller says. “That ship has sailed.”