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Happy Jed


Method #89-Q of making Jed happy: ensure that he receives the new 15th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style in the mail. (Along with a Le Guin book—which I'm also very pleased about, but it's a used copy that isn't in as good condition as I was hoping for.)

I haven't spent a lot of time with the new Chicago yet. I'm fairly pleased with the new usage section, though the book no longer recommends the use of singular they. The body typeface (Scala) is nicer and more readable than the previous edition's (which was Linotron Times Roman) (though Scala is not as heavy/dark, so it has less contrast against the page background); the blue inline examples inserted into paragraphs in the usage section are a little distracting, but once I get used to them I may like them.

Much of the book is still devoted to details of production and citation, which I'm largely uninterested in, but I imagine it continues to be useful to production people and to academics. There's lots of new material about online stuff, including a section on citing online magazines; sadly, they don't recommend a way to set off URLs in text. I continue to feel that URLs in text reduce readability if they're not set off somehow, and all sorts of problems arise when they're followed by punctuation, but Chicago says: "Other punctuation marks [other than trailing slashes] used following a URL will readily be perceived as belonging to the surrounding text." I'm awfully dubious about that, especially in works intended for a non-technical audience; I'll probably continue to set them off with parentheses even when they're not parenthetical.

One of my few serious problems with the 14th edition was the index, which often seemed fairly arbitrary to me; we'll see whether the index in this new edition is better.

Really, that's all I can say about the volume in general; it'll take a while of using it to see what I think about it. But I'm pleased to have it anyway.


what? no more the singular "they"?

i assume previously, as a substitute for s/he-isms.

So, what are we to do instead?

enquiring minds!

Yeah, 14th ed. actively recommended they as a gender-neutral singular pronoun (it's been in use that way since Jane Austen at least). Unfortunately, 15th ed. is nearly silent on this difficult and important topic. In 5.204 it declares that gender bias is unacceptable, and that "There are many ways to achieve [gender-bias-free] language, but it takes thought and often some hard work." It fails to explicitly recommend any particular course of action, but it points to three other sections. 5.43 concludes: "A good writer can usually recast the sentence to eliminate the need for any personal pronoun at all." 5.51 notes in passing that gender-neutral use of he is declining. 5.78 recommends he or she or (in place of possessive his or her) the.

In other words, the old approaches that writers and editors have been using ever since he started to fall out of favor. They're fine recommendations, but there are plenty of contexts in which they're not helpful. Also, 15th ed. fails to comment at all on singular they. Very disappointing.

I'll continue to use singular they in places where I can't write around it, most likely. Not ideal, but (in my current thinking) preferable to the alternatives.

Where I worked before, being as we were an off-shoot of an government agency, we had two seperate ways of identifying links. All publications but the Quarterly would italicize them. When they were PDFed, we'd make the links live. The Quarterly underlined their links. Visually, I prefered the italics.

"A good writer can usually recast the sentence to eliminate the need for any personal pronoun at all."

This reminds me of my old quantum mechanics text that used to leave off at a really significant bit with "the proof is left as an exercise to the reader".

A bit unfair on the part of Chicago, given that its primary audience is writers who are trying to become better writers, rather than confident wordsmiths who want a good read (though we do, we do).

If one was sure, one wouldn't be looking it up!

Alas. So... Are you enjoying or cursing at the index? :)

That reminds me of an old proposal for a singular, gender-neutral pronoun: "horshit" [sic]. You know, an abbreviation for "he or she/it".

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