Ex Libris: Between You & Me

In the tradition of Eats, Shoots & Leaves and Woe Is I comes Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris. Norris is a veteran of The New Yorker copy department, having worked there since 1978. With her vast editorial experience, she certainly knows her who from her whom and her I from her me. However, books on usage that aim to be more novel than manual require a style similar to, say, Tina Fey rather than Strunk and White.

Between You & Me is part memoir, part history text, and part usage manual. Where Norris succeeds the most is in sharing her vast knowledge on the history of language. In the chapter entitled “The Problem of Heesh,” Norris details previous attempts at developing gender-neutral language. Who knew that in 1850 the words ne, nis, and nim were proposed to replace he/she, his/her, and him/her? Or that ip and ips were offered in 1884, ha, hez, and hem in 1927, shi, shis, and shim in 1934, and himorher in 1935? In the chapter on commas, we learn that the comma was “refined” by printer Aldo Manuzio in Venice in 1490. In the chapter on apostrophe, we learn that the word goes back to Greek drama and derives from “a rhetorical device in which the actor turns from the action and addresses someone or something who is not there.”

Norris also uses examples from classical literature to illustrate her points on usage. She discusses Charles Dickens’ style of punctuating by ear, which today seems not only overdone but also incorrect: “We know that Dickens got paid by the word (writers still do), a fact that is often used to explain his prodigious output, but I think he might have collected a bonus for punctuation.” She addresses the history of the hyphen in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick: “The holiest hyphen in literature is the hyphen in Moby-Dick.” She examines Emily Dickinson’s use of the hyphen, Henry James’ fondness for semicolons, and Gertrude Stein’s love of the apostrophe. All these literary details make for entertaining reading. Less effective are the stories from Norris’ personal life. She begins with her own history of working as a “key girl” at a public pool in Cleveland when she was 15 years old. She ends with a story about speaking at the funeral of her New Yorker colleague Lu Burke. Her stories are fine, but there’s nothing particularly compelling, revealing, or funny about them.

Between You & Me is enjoyable for anyone interested in spending some time contemplating spelling, punctuation, and general usage issues. Although Norris’ personal stories do not serve the book as well as her exploration of the history of language and the usage styles of famous literary figures, Between You & Me is a worthwhile read. Hey, we can’t all be Tina Fey, but there’s a lot to be said for Strunk and White.—Laura King, MA, ELS

Steal This Article

Today we shine a light on a fascinating blog on plagiarism and scientific misconduct, Copy, Shake, and Paste (dig that serial comma!), written by Debora Weber-Wulff. Do any of you work with plagiarism-detecting software? Leave us a comment on your experiences.

Also check out her sadly hilarious entry about fake editorial board members. Brenda Gregoline, ELS



Quiz Bowl: Ophthalmology Terms

Do you know the difference between disk and disc? What about vision and visual acuity? Or conjunctival hyperemia and conjunctival injection? That’s right, this month we’re talking about ophthalmology!

The AMA Manual of Style has an informative section on ophthalmology terms (§15.13). The section defines terms commonly used in radiology literature and offers instruction on how to use these terms correctly. Some of the terms addressed in the section are fovea, macula, lid, and orbit, as well as several acuity terms.

See if you can identify the problem(s) in the following sentence from this month’s quiz:

At initial presentation, her best-corrected visual acuity was 20/30 in each eye. Five weeks later, while taking 40 mg of prednisone, she reported no improvement in her vision, and her best-corrected visual acuity remained at 20/30 OU.

Highlight for the answer:

At initial presentation, her best-corrected visual acuity was 20/30 OU. Five weeks later, while taking 40 mg of prednisone, she reported no improvement in her vision, and her best-corrected visual acuity remained at 20/30 OU.

The abbreviations OD (right eye), OS (left eye), and OU (each eye) may be used without expansion only with numbers, eg, 20/25 OU, or descriptive assessments of acuity. Note that OU does not mean both eyes, although it is often used incorrectly to imply a vision measurement (eg, visual acuity or visual field) with both eyes at the same time (§15.13, Ophthalmology Terms, pp 736-739 in print).

That’s just a glimpse of what we have to offer in this month’s quiz on ophthalmology terms. If you’re a subscriber, check out the complete quiz at www.amamanualofstyle.com.—Laura King, MA, ELS


Questions From Users of the Manual

Q: I am putting together an annotated bibliography for a manuscript. What is the correct order recommended by the AMA Manual of Style for citing multiple articles by the same author? Is it by date of publication or article title?

A: The JAMA Network journals do not use a name-date style of reference citation. Instead they use a superscript reference citation system. If you look in the 10th edition of the Manual of Style, section 3.6 (Citation), you will see further information on this. So, it matters not the date of publication or the article title. What is key is the order in which the reference is cited in the paper, eg, the first reference to be cited would be reference 1, the second would be reference 2. (And if reference 1 is cited again later in the paper, it would still remain reference 1.)

Q: What do you tell authors who object to the house style your publications follow by saying that “Everybody does X [rather than what you recommend].”?

A: When people respond like this, I find that it’s helpful to look at what a few key style manuals or journals in the field (based on their Instructions for Authors) do in areas in which people have complaints or concerns. If you can put together a little chart (nothing fancy) showing that indeed maybe it is not EVERYBODY who does X, real data can sometimes calm the fevered brow. And sometimes you may find that indeed most others do have a different policy than what your house style recommends. Then it may be time to reconsider your policy. Sometimes this is how style policies change, and that can be a good thing. We learn from our authors just as we hope they learn from us.—Cheryl Iverson, MA

Questions From Users of the Manual

Q: I am writing on behalf of my editorial department. We are all very curious to know when we should follow the style outlined in 3.13.2, which calls for headline caps and italics for the publication’s title vs the style outlined in 3.15. 5, which in most cases calls for the title to be set in roman and title case. Why, in example 6 in 3.15.5, is the title set like those for 3.13.2? Is there a distinction between bulletins and reports?

A: Perhaps the line here is fine.  In 3.13.2, the examples are all bulletins. These are more like books, hence the cap and italic style you asked about. In 3.15.5, the examples are all reports. These might be booklike but they often are more like journal articles. The advice right before the examples is to use journal style for articles and book style for monographs. Reference 6, which you ask about, seems more booklike as it has a volume number. Sometimes it is really difficult to know what something is. If it is available online, you might look at it and be more easily able to determine what sort of “beast” it is.

Q: To adhere to the guidelines in the AMA Manual of Style must an author document all sources with footnotes in the text in chronological order? It’s my understanding that doing so serves, in essence, as a form of fact checking. Does your manual offer any other other guidance on fact checking?

A: Yes, we recommend that all sources cited in a manuscript be included in the reference list for the manuscript (with a few exceptions, which we recommend citing parenthetically in the text). These are not, however, cited chronologically (if by that you mean from the earliest published to the most recently published) but rather in order of citation in the manuscript (ie, the first reference cited would be reference 1, that cited second would be reference 2, etc; and if a reference is cited several times, it would each time retain its original reference number, so that if reference 2 is not only cited second but also appears later in the manuscript, it would still remain reference 2).

Whether this citation of references constitutes “fact checking” is a bit trickier to be sure of. As our manual states in the chapter on references, “References serve 3 primary purposes—documentation, acknowledgment, and directing or linking the reader to additional resources.” Citing a reference, and thereby crediting another source for the material cited, and also linking the reader to additional resources, is related to fact checking in that a reader could follow that link (ie, go to the reference cited) and make sure that it has been cited accurately. Whether that constitutes fact checking, though, is unclear. It does ensure that the original source has been cited/quoted correctly. But it doesn’t tell a reader if in fact that source is correct.—Cheryl Iverson, MA

Questions From Users of the Manual

Q: We are having a discussion about –ic and –ical. Dictionaries often use both. Where does the AMA Manual stand on this?

A: Please refer to the Correct and Preferred Usage chapter in the manual. You’ll see an entry on this very subject. In addition, there are entries on some of the pairs of words where the meaning of the –ic version is different from that of the –ical version (eg, classic/classical, historic/historical).

Q: Does AMA style advise against using a period after the abbreviation Inc?

A: Yes, we advise against using a period after the abbreviation Inc. This is addressed in section 14.7.

Q: In the course of developing a manuscript, an author has retired. Should we delete her affiliation? Or perhaps indicate something about her retirement in parentheses?

A: I would list the author’s affiliation, assuming she was affiliated with this institution while working on the paper. Then, follow the guidance about Author’s Affiliation (section 2.3.3) if a person has moved. This would mean adding an indication that Dr X is now retired. The style used for this notation will depend on the design of the journal involved. —Cheryl Iverson, MA

Quiz Bowl: Web References

Recently, a user of the AMA Manual of Style wrote to us with questions about how to edit web references. As we worked to answer her questions, we discovered that although the manual provides instructions and examples for editing web references, the task can often make an editor feel like the proverbial fly trapped in the web of the spider.

One reason for this feeling is that it is often difficult to discern the types of materials available on websites. For example, delineating between authors and publishers as well as books or reports and journal-type articles can be challenging. Therefore, this month’s Style Book Quiz is on editing web references. Answers have been determined by extrapolating from the information in the AMA Manual of Style.

 As an introduction to the full quiz, edit the following web reference:

Guidelines for the use of antiretroviral agents in HIV-1-infected adults and adolescents. Panel on Antiretroviral Guidelines for Adults and Adolescents, Department of Health and Human Services. http://aidsinfo.nih.gov/contentfiles/lvguidelines/adultandadolescentgl.pdf. Accessed October 30, 2014.

Highlight for the answer: Panel on Antiretroviral Guidelines for Adults and Adolescents. Guidelines for the Use of Antiretroviral Agents in HIV-1-Infected Adults and Adolescents. Washington, DC: US Dept of Health and Human Services. http://aidsinfo.nih.gov/contentfiles/lvguidelines/adultandadolescentgl.pdf. Accessed October 30, 2014.

Often government reports provide a suggested citation format. In this case, the suggested citation (as indicated on the bottom of the title page of the report) is as follows: Panel on Antiretroviral Guidelines for Adults and Adolescents. Guidelines for the use of antiretroviral agents in HIV-1-infected adults and adolescents. Department of Health and Human Services. Available at http://aidsinfo.nih.gov/ContentFiles/AdultandAdolescentGL.pdf. Section accessed [insert date] [insert page number, table number, etc, if applicable].

This style is close to AMA style and can be adapted to it by removing “Available at” and adding “US” before “Department of Health and Human Services.” In addition, one of the questions that arises with web publications is whether to style a title as a book title (initial capital letters and italicized type) or journal title (only the first word of the title capitalized and roman type). According to the AMA Manual of Style (§3.15.5), government/organization reports “are treated much like electronic journal and book references: use journal style for articles and book style for monographs.” In this case, the manuscript is a 282-page PDF document, so it is appropriate to style the title as a book title. Because the manuscript contains no publication date, this information cannot be included in the reference.

The full quiz (available to subscribers at www.amamanualofstyle.com) provides more examples of web material that may be difficult to reference. Can we tempt you to try? Or as the spider said to the fly, “Will you walk into my parlour?”1Laura King, MA, ELS



  1. Howitt M. The Spider and the Fly. http://famousliteraryworks.com/howitt_the_spider_and_the_fly_funny.htm. Accessed December 10, 2014.