What is an Epigram? For That Matter, What is an Epigraph?

What is an Epigram? A dwarfish whole,
Its body brevity, and wit its soul.
—Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

What is an epigram?  Samuel Taylor Coleridge posed this question in a short, funny little couplet that’s its own answer.  Merriam Webster’s online edition defines it as “a concise poem dealing pointedly and often satirically with a single thought or event and often ending with an ingenious turn of thought . . . a terse, sage, or witty and often paradoxical saying.”  What, then, you might ask, is an epigraph?  Answer: it’s usually not an epigram.*  And, moreover, this blog posting has already answered that question, Coleridge-style . . . and I’ll bet you didn’t even notice.

An epigraph is a quotation at the beginning of a section that hints at its theme.  Academics love these, and for good reason.  They add color, interest—in a word, they’re punchy!  Here are some guidelines for making those epigraphs look professional.

According to The Chicago Manual of Style (online 16th edition), and in something of a miraculous remission of the usual standards of academic writing, you don’t have to fully cite your epigraph.  Instead, after a dash, provide the author’s name and the title of the work (1.36).  No need even for quotation marks, though the block should be indented (either left or right) to set it off from the main text.**  The source should appear on a line below the text of the epigraph (13.34).

And now, friends, you can be correct.  Though correct is a long way from good; for advice on quality, perhaps you should recall what the soul of wit is.

*Nor is it an epitaph, though I imagine you could choose an epigram as an epitaph.
**Nitpickers should note that WordPress blogging software apparently does not believe in indentation.


Mastering Footnotes: Where to Put the Numbers

Screenshot footnote

A note number in its natural habitat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve noted some confusion among clients about how to handle note numbers (the technical term for the superscript number appearing in the body of a manuscript).  I thought some general clearing-up might be a very useful gift to the world.  Well, a mildly useful gift to a limited number of people.  But still.

First off, you can’t just stick them any old place.  You should always aim to place note numbers at the end of the sentence or a clause.  Merge two footnotes if you have to.  If, for clarity’s sake, it’s necessary to put a footnote next to a specific term, then do so, but use this approach sparingly (CMoS, 16th ed., 14.21).

Second, note numbers come after, not before, punctuation.  The only exception is the dash, or, again, isolated cases that help clarify (14.21).

Third, Word is your friend.  Use it how it was meant to be used.  Allow it to set up your footnotes or endnotes for you.  Why do some people go through and put the little numbers in themselves?  Why do they then go on to type out the endnotes in a list form at the end?  No one knows, because this way lies only sadness and confusion.  Keep in mind that Word, unlike you, can automatically link up the notes with the note numbers.  Think of the advantages and embrace the technology, my friends!

Code Word: Confusing (Latin Citational Words Defined)

I advocate ditching medieval-style caps and gowns and returning to the toga virilis forthwith.

For hundreds of years, learned people of the Western world were usually taught Latin.  Contemporary scholars, however, are not often so (un?)lucky.  For readers and writers of footnotes and bibliographies, this can lead to no little confusion, especially if you’re a historian dealing with sources written in previous centuries.  Here’s a cheat sheet to help you out with a few commonly found but hard-to-translate terms.

et al.: This means et alia, or “and others” (CMoS, 16th ed., 10.43)  In footnotes, this is used in the place of the names of multiple authors.  List the first, then add et al.  In the bibliography, list everyone up to ten authors.  If the source has more than ten, list the first seven, then add et al. (14.76).  Note that “al.” is an abbreviation, so it requires that period.  “Et” is a whole word, so it does not.

ibid.: This is the abbreviation of ibidem, meaning “in the same place” (10.43).  It’s used when you’re too lazy to write out all the information you used in the previous footnote.  It replaces as much of the previous information as is identical, but for clarity’s sake shouldn’t be used if the previous footnote contains more than one source (14.29).

id.: Guess what?  Just to make things confusing, there’s another abbreviated Latin term, extremely similar to ibid., meaning a very similar thing, that you shouldn’t use!  The abbreviation of idem, “the same” (10.43), is “id.”  It replaces an author’s name in a successive footnote.  Unless you’re writing legal copy, avoid this . . . but now at least you know what it means (14.30)!

loc. cit.: This is an abbreviation of loco citato, “in the place cited” (14.43).  It’s used to replace a work’s title, but not its author, in a footnote (e.g., Rothschadl, loc. cit., 942).  Unlike ibid., it could refer to any old preceding footnote at all (not just the directly preceding footnote).  It’s out of date and confusing, and CMoS argues that it should be avoided (14.31).

op. cit.: This, clearly, is loc. cit’s cousin, and is the shortened form of opere citato, or “in the work cited” (14.43).  It’s used exactly like loc. cit., and it should be avoided for the same reasons.

And finally, a note applying to all of the above: Since these are words in English (though borrowed directly from Latin), no need to italicize any of them (7.52, 7.53).  When in doubt on this score, check Merriam-Webster’s.

How to Spell Your Degree (A Posting for the Rest of Us)

[Unidentified graduating cadet in military tro...

Ah, the time-honored tradition of preposterous haberdashery. (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

I’ve already posted about how to properly capitalize and punctuate “PhD.”  But what about the rest of us folks who have gone to college but weren’t quite ready to spend another five to seven years doing homework?  What’s the proper way to discuss our comparatively humble college and graduate degrees?*

Don’t worry, folks, The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.) has the answers that you’ve spent four (and possibly another two) years burning for.

If you’ve finished graduate school with a terminal MA, you may be correctly said to have obtained a master’s degree (8.28).  The technical name of your degree is master of art (10.2), which is abbreviated MA, as per CMoS‘s rules regarding abbreviations ending in capital letters (10.4)

If you’ve finished college, you’d received a BA (bachelor of arts) or a BS (bachelor of science).  Note the correct spelling of “bachelor” here, because it’s a tricky one (10.20).  You can also say you have a bachelor’s degree.

Note: AM (artium magister, the Latin term for “master of arts”), SB (scientiae baccalaureus, or “bachelor of science”), and AB (artium baccalaureus, or “bachelor of arts”) are insufferably priggish but technically correct.  But then, if you’re the sort of person who wants a Latin-sounding degree, I suggest that you just go ahead and get a PhD (philosophiae doctor, “doctor of philosophy”) anyhow.

*Admittedly, in 2009 the US Census Bureau reported that only 28% of Americans had received at least a bachelor’s degree, so the whole power-to-the-people theme of this posting is pretty specious.  (Camille L. Ryan and Julie Siebens, Educational Attainment in the United States: 2009, Bureau of the Census (Washington, DC, 2012; obtainable online here).

Hipsters and Their -LYs

The Chicago Manual of Style doesn’t have a lot of simple formulas or rules of thumb.  But here is one about hyphenation: “compounds formed by an adverb ending in ly plus an adjective or participle (such as largely irrelevant or smartly dressed) are not hyphenated either before or after a noun” (7.82).

Ok, maybe that doesn’t sound so simple.  It’s easy to get bogged down in keeping adverbs, adjectives, and participles straight.  It’s much clearer in examples.  Here are a few, all expressing opinions that make cool people hate me.

Wrong: Wes Anderson’s movies are excessively-stylized.

Hipsters: they’re all -LYers

Right: Wes Anderson’s movies are excessively stylized.

Wrong: The sweetly-sung tones of the Eagles can never be displeasing.
Right: The sweetly sung tones of the Eagles can never be displeasing.

Wrong: Incoherently-written tomes, such as Infinite Jest, are off-putting to the reader.
Right: Incoherently written tomes, such as Infinite Jest, are off-putting* to the reader.

Wrong: Your nastily-worded invective against people who commute in cars (rather than on bikes) suggests that you are not as morally-superior as you think you are.
Right: Your nastily worded invective against people who commute in cars (rather than on bikes) suggests that you are not as morally superior as you think you are.

That’s right, people.  Correct is better than cool.

Now where did I stash my boot-cut jeans again?  They’re bound to come back in fashion some day…

*Nerds interested in such things should note that “off-putting” is hyphenated in Merriam Webster’s, and therefore in my blog.

To Cap or Not to Cap? The Colon Edition

English: CMOS 16 cover image.

English: CMOS 16 cover image. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last month I posed a question to my adoring fans (read: friends) on Facebook.  What niggling questions have you always had but not yet answered?  Regarding style, that is.  I can’t really address the meaning of life.  That might be a job for Carol Saller over at CMoS Q&A.

The response I got asked whether to capitalize after a colon.  Good question.  Fortunately, The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.) has the answer, in the succinctly titled section “Lowercase or capital letter after a colon” (6.61).  At first it’s going to seem kind of complicated, so I’ll summarize: for the most part, no.

Here’s the deal.  “When a colon is used within a sentence, as in the first two examples . . . the first word following the colon is lowercased unless it is a proper name. When a colon introduces two or more sentences . . . when it introduces a speech in dialogue or an extract . . . or when it introduces a direct question, the first word following it is capitalized.”

Here are some examples illustrating when to capitalize.

Participants in the 2011 Jersey Shore Studies Conference at the University of Chicago: Michael Corey, Michael Showalter, Alison Hearn. [proper name]

My parents just couldn’t stop talking about Convocation 2012: The pomp!  The circumstance!  The tams! [two or more sentences]

Juliet: O Romeo, Romeo!  Wherefore art thou, Romeo? [dialogue]

Theresa couldn’t stop asking just one question: When do we get more cake? [direct question]

Hope that answers your question, Susan Stearns!

Graduation Special: How to Spell Your Own Degree

English: CMOS 16 cover image.

English: CMOS 16 cover image. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s graduation season, and those of you who have just received doctorates have probably wondered how, exactly, to abbreviate the degree.  And the heat of the moment is not really the right time to look this up (“Let me just put down my mortarboard for a sec and read the Manual, Mom…”). But if you have to add it in after your name to properly present yourself in a professional context, then it’s worth doing right.  The expression, which technically stands for the New Latin term philosophiae doctor, is properly spelled “PhD,” not “Ph.D.” or “PhD.” (don’t retain the periods).  Why?  You’ll have to ask The Chicago Manual of Style 10.4 yourself—fruitlessly—for the logic, but the manual instructs us to leave off periods in abbreviations that end in a capital letter.