When the new edition of The Chicago Manual of Style arrived in the mail recently, my reaction was akin to Navin Johnson’s in The Jerk when the new phone book arrives (hence the title of this post). Upon seeing the soothing baby blue cover, the first words out of my mouth were “It’s beautiful.” After a quick flip through, my next words were “This is as overwhelming as it is exciting.”
As any editor can attest, the release of a new version of your style guide of choice brings mixed emotions: On the one hand, you’re happy to get an updated manual, which often elaborates upon or resolves issues that have been plaguing the previous edition for years. On the other hand, there’s a lot to learn, particularly in a tome the size of the Chicago Manual, not to mention a price tag ($65 in this case, if you didn’t take advantage of one of the special offers beforehand).
Fortunately, Chicago has provided an overview of what’s new in this edition, which reflects “editorial style and publishing practices in the digital age.” Given how much of editing has moved away from paper, I was happy to see proofreading guidelines for web-based documents and an electronic-editing checklist among the new additions. There’s also a “new and improved hyphenation guide,” presented in a table. Make sure to check out the significant rule changes (e.g., “Web site” is now ”website”!), but don’t worry: ”the fundamental principles of ‘Chicago style’ remain the same.” It appears most changes were made with simplicity or popular usage in mind.
Chicago’s very own “subversive copy editor,” Carol Fisher Saller, has kindly posted tips for learning the sixteenth edition on her blog. She also conducted an insightful interview with the Manual‘s principal reviser, Russell David Harper, the second installment of a two-part behind-the-scenes look at the revision process.
I thank Chicago for trying to make the transition easy for us editors, but I plan to hold on to my fifteenth edition, at least for now. Speaking of earlier editions, in honor of this latest release, Chicago is making the first edition of the manual, published in 1906, available as their free e-book for September (a new e-book is offered every month through their Digital Editions program) and as a downloadable pdf. A quick perusal of its contents will turn any anxiety you feel about the sixteenth edition into gratitude.