Tag Archives: The Chicago Manual of Style

From here-eternity

You’ve probably noticed the Word Nymph has been in hibernation lately. Frankly, this spring hasn’t produced a fertile crop of linguistic irritants. And those peeking their heads above the soil haven’t seemed worthy of shining the sun upon (says she, ending her sentence acceptably with a preposition).

However, there has been one little allergen under my skin for some time; finally, it took a recent project for me to slap some Benedryl on it.

Like pollen in springtime, this one appears everywhere. Flyers, bulletins, invitations, ads, the posts of the most learned of Facebook friends.

“The show will air from 4:00-5:00 p.m.” “The dinner will be held from 6:00-9:00.” “The store will be open from 10-6.” In each of these examples, either something needs to go or something needs to be replaced. Do you see it?

The easiest fix would be to delete from, and say simply that the show will air 4:00-5:00 p.m. Alternatively, we could substitute the dash with to or until. The show will air from 4:00 until 5:00. Or we could say that the store is open between 10:00 and 6:00. But never—ever—should we use from and a dash.

Why is the from-dash so prevalent?

No matter. The subject springs from a conversation with a client last week about the correct way to punctuate ranges of dates and times. If a piece of punctuation is to indicate the time between Monday and Friday, is it a hyphen, an en dash or an em dash?

Typographically speaking, most authorities–the AP Stylebook, The Chicago Manual of Style and countless online sources–accept either a hyphen or an en dash. Preferring to save hyphens for hyphenation, I’d argue for the en dash. And while most authorities specify that there are to be no spaces on either side of en dash (unlike the mighty em dash, which prefers no space around it), there appears to be an exception for dates and times. Monday-Friday, 8:00-10 a.m. Or Tues.-Thurs., 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. And that’s little a, little p, with periods, by the way. The big A and big P are disappearing from modern temporal expression, and my eyes aren’t misting over their departure. (Apparently, Robert Bringhurst, the guru of modern typography, disagrees. Let’s postpone further discussion of that until I receive my copy of The Elements of Typographic Style.)

Nonetheless, I was tickled that my client cared as much about this wonky issue as I did and was especially psyched to back up my hunch with hard data. Most of all, I was proud that my client wasn’t the least bit tempted to pull a from-dash.

Happy Spring, which runs from March 20 to June 21.

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Collective consciousness

Does anyone else lie awake at night fretting over collective nouns?

At my current stage of life, I often find myself wide awake in the wee hours, teeth clenched, eyes wide open, brain ticking away like an electricity meter on overload.  It’s 3:00 a.m. when little things become big things.

Last night it was collective nouns and why, even though they are singular, they often precede plural verbs.   You too, eh?

Example:  The couple were on their honeymoon.  Couple, singular; were, plural.  Even as I type this, my computer’s grammar checker flags it as an error.

A collective noun, also called a mass noun or non-count noun, is a noun that represents more than one thing:  couple, team, group, herd and countless more.

The most recent 3:00 a.m. over-analysis was precipitated by a lead sentence I read yesterday in The Washington Post:  “A handful of federal lawmakers are seeking to vastly expand the number of long-distance flights at Reagan National Airport . . .”   If “handful” is the subject, then why isn’t the verb “is?”  “Of lawmakers” shouldn’t matter; it’s just a prepositional phrase of sorts.

Bleary-eyed, I stumbled into my office and consulted two trusted sources.

The Associated Press Stylebook says that “nouns that denote a unit take singular verbs and pronouns.”  For example, “The committee is meeting.”

The Chicago Manual of Style says that a collective noun “takes a plural verb when it refers to the members of the group considered as individuals.”

Are they both correct?

I then scanned about a dozen word blogs for some practical interpretation.

The consensus among observers appears to be that collective nouns are singular and call for a singular verb, except when the members of a group are acting as individuals, in which case the collective noun is plural and requires plural verbs and pronouns.  So, yes, AP and Chicago are both correct.

Which brings me back to the couple on its/their honeymoon.  Are they acting as individuals and if so, is the honeymoon then over?

Tonight I’ll try counting the imaginary flock of sheep that are jumping over a fence.  It is “are,” right?   Oh, never mind.


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