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But Can I Start a Sentence with "But"?

Advice from the Chicago Style Q&A

The University of Chicago Press Editorial Staff

But Can I Start a Sentence with

The University of Chicago Press Editorial Staff

With a Foreword by Carol Fisher Saller
112 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2016
Cloth $15.00 ISBN: 9780226370644 Published April 2016
E-book $15.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226370781 Published April 2016
Q. Is it “happy medium” or “happy median”? My author writes: “We would all be much better served as stewards of finite public funds if we could find that happy median where trust reigns supreme.” Thanks!
A. The idiom is “happy medium,” but I like the image of commuters taking refuge from road rage on the happy median.
Q. How do I write a title of a song in the body of the work (caps, bold, underline, italics, etc.)? Example: The Zombies’ “She’s Not There” looped in his head.
A. Noooo! Now that song is looping in my head (“but it’s too late to say you’re sorry . . .”). Use quotation marks. Thanks a lot.
 
Every month, tens of thousands of self-declared word nerds converge upon a single site: The Chicago Manual of Style Online's Q&A. There the Manual’s editors open the mailbag and tackle readers’ questions on topics ranging from abbreviation to word division to how to reform that coworker who still insists on two spaces between sentences. Champions of common sense, the editors offer smart, direct, and occasionally tongue-in-cheek responses that have guided writers and settled arguments for more than fifteen years.

But Can I Start a Sentence with “But”? brings together the best of the Chicago Style Q&A. Curated from years of entries, it features some of the most popular—and hotly debated—rulings and also recovers old favorites long buried in the archives.

Questions touch on myriad matters of editorial style—capitalization, punctuation, alphabetizing, special characters—as well as grammar, usage, and beyond (“How do I spell out the sound of a scream?”). A foreword by Carol Fisher Saller, the Q&A’s longtime editor, takes readers through the history of the Q&A and addresses its reputation for mischief. (“It’s not that we set out to be cheeky,” she writes.)

Taken together, the questions and answers offer insights into some of the most common issues that face anyone who works with words. They’re also a comforting reminder that even the best writer or editor needs a little help—and humor—sometimes.
Contents

Foreword, by Carol Fisher Saller

1          “It’s not so much an issue of correctness as of ickiness”
Abbreviations, Acronyms, and Initialisms
Compounds
Numbers
Plurals
Possessives and Attributives
Words and Letters

2          “‘President of the Mess Hall’ is going to look pretty silly”
Proper Nouns
Titles of Works

3          “Three people have three strong opinions about commas . . .”
Commas
Hyphens
Vertical Lists and Bullets
Other Dots, Dashes, and Squiggles

4          “Can fewest mean zero?”
Use or Abuse?
Restriction
Gender Benders
Prepositions
Pronouns
Grammatical or Not?

5          “If you give birth to a source and he’s still living under your roof . . .”
How Do You Cite . . . ?
Notes
Bibliographies
What if . . . ?
Quotations and Dialogue

6          “Holy metaphysics—we aren’t that fancy”
Authors, Titles, and Metadata
Formatting
Illustrations
Permissions, Credits, and Practical Issues
Indexing
Using a Style Manual

7          “Aaagh!” to “argh!” to “aahhh!”
Alphabetizing
In the Weeds of Editing
Special Characters
URLs
You Could Look It Up
Things That Freak Us Out

Index

Review Quotes
Mignon Fogarty, author of the New York Times bestseller Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing
“A wonderful blend of substance and snark—both a useful reference and a fun (yes, fun) read.”
John E. McIntyre, Baltimore Sun
"What impresses more than the witty replies is the blessed saneness throughout the answers. Many conventions of publishing are described in the 1,026 pages of the 16th edition, but the editors recognize that no manual, however comprehensive, can supply answers to every conceivable situation. So Saller and her colleagues advise: Don’t hogtie yourself in some intricate and complicated procedure; try to extrapolate from an existing convention; arrive at something clear and reasonable; carry it out consistently through the text."
Sentence First
“These are solid maxims of the editing trade, yet they are unknown to some professionals who assume there is always a Right Way and who sacrifice sense and compromise clarity to avoid deviating from a rule, however trivial. So it’s reassuring and constructive to see editorial flexibility upheld and indeed stressed by so august an arbiter.”
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