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Slashes: Uses and Restrictions

Misunderstood. Abused. Ignored.

No, not me. Well, maybe that, too, but I’m referring to the beleaguered slash, which you may know as a diagonal, virgule, solidus, slant, stroke, oblique stroke, separatrix, shilling mark, or forward slash (that low-self-esteem retronym which seeks to distinguish the slash [/] from the backslash [\]).

With this many names and almost as many roles—like providing alternatives, adding, abbreviating, separating, joining—the slash is like the understudy who also prints the flyers and strikes the set with the stagehands. Even so, The Associated Press Stylebook chose to exclude the slash from the “Punctuation” section, acknowledging it with a thirty-word chin nod in the main section instead. (It could be worse: The en dash was completely forsaken.)

[In AP style,] slashes are acceptable only in certain phrases and “special situations,” such as with fractions.

It may surprise you to learn that the most common usage of the slash, as a signifier of alternatives/options/choices, has been barred in AP style; slashes are acceptable only in certain phrases and “special situations,” such as with fractions. A heavy user of slashes and other intoxicating punctuation such as semicolons, I do admit to relying upon them to organize the contents of my brain when I’m in a hurry. And why not? They’re free, and I can use the time I’m saving for more important tasks, like chewing properly.

Slashes: Differences Between AP and Chicago Style

AP: We never said that slashes are tacky or that using them is lazy, but we’re cool with those inferences. Here are the acceptable uses.

  • With fractions
  • Between lines of quoted poetry
  • In Internet addresses (URLs) and pathnames
  • In descriptive phrases such as 24/7 or 9/11
  • In the signoff (credit) in photo captions

AP doesn’t explain this, but in the stylebook, the slash is also used in abbreviations such as TCP/IP and NAA/IPTC.

In the 14th edition (1993) of The Chicago Manual of Style, the slash was listed under “solidus” and was summed up in one paragraph. Cute, right? It didn’t make the first edition, in 1906, but that was a two-hundred-page baby compared to today’s thousand-page sumo wrestler.

Chicago: We love our versatile little friend. Here are some of its uses.

  • With fractions
  • Between lines of quoted poetry
  • In Internet addresses (URLs) and pathnames
  • To signify or or and/or
  • With two-year spans, e.g., 1991/92 (instead of an en dash)
  • With dates (informal), e.g., 6/1/11
  • In abbreviations, e.g., $7/hour (instead of per) and c/o (instead of a period)

So that’s the nitty-gritty of slashes and style.

When in doubt, ditch the spaces and you’ll be right most of the time.

Now, let’s talk about how to render a slash in certain contexts to improve readability, which is, after all, the heart of copyediting. (Or the lungs. Some vital organ.) Non-editors tend to either compulsively add spaces around all slashes or close them all up. When in doubt, ditch the spaces and you’ll be right most of the time; however, Chicago has an option for handling open compounds (two or more words separated by a space, e.g., copy editor) that offers more flexibility and clarity—totally worth memorizing. More on that coming up.

General Rule for Using Spaces With Slashes

In most cases, there are no spaces on either side of the slash. This is especially true for unique (read: inflexible) constructions such as directory paths and filenames, where our use of the slash is driven by requirement, not style.

Brief rant: There’s a rogue slash style making the rounds, usually on résumés, for some reason: no space before the slash but one after. I’m not impressed by this. It’s a red flag that points to poor decision-making more than anything else; even if executed consistently, it isn’t a style which showcases a copy editor’s skills. Rather, it may expose them as a street editor (as in any schmoe off the street). Not that I don’t appreciate this heads-up.

Exception: Quoted Poetry

AP: To show line breaks when quoting poetry in running text, use a slash between the lines, with a space before and after the slashes.

Chicago: Ditto. And when quoting more than one stanza in running text, insert two slashes [//] between the stanzas.

Although Chicago discusses this explicitly, AP actually doesn’t say anything about putting spaces around slashes for quoting poetry—only that slashes can be used to denote “the ends of a line in quoted poetry.” Good enough for me!

Exception: Open Compounds

Chicago: If one or both of the terms separated by the slash consist of two or more words, a space before and after the slash may aid comprehension.

This option really appeals to me, because it helps to visually group an open compound, making it clear that words beyond the ones immediately surrounding the slash are part of the thoughts being weighed.

The 15th edition had prescribed a thin space before and after; in the 16th edition, we’ve graduated to a full space, certainly a more realistic option for writers, editors, and typesetters. (Spacing slashes was not even addressed in the 14th edition.) I applaud this move towards simplicity and am looking forward to a thinner edition in CMOS’ next incarnation. Well, I can dream, at least.

I applaud this move towards simplicity and am looking forward to a thinner edition in CMOS’ next incarnation.

Sources

  • AP, 2011: “slash” and “Internet”; “Photo Captions” section
  • CMOS, 16th edition: slashes, 6.103-110; periods with abbreviations, 10.4; running in more than one stanza of poetry, 13.32

Titles: Quote Marks, Italics, Underlining, or Naked?

Remember the days when your manual typewriter didn’t have a key for the number 1, so you used a lowercase letter L instead? And to type an exclamation point, you typed an apostrophe first, backspaced, and then typed a period beneath it? Sure you do, punk.

Clarification: I’m not that old; my high school was poor. We pasted our newspaper dummies together with wax and made type changes with a dull razor.

Well, we don’t type that way anymore, because technology has blessed us with 1s and !s on our keyboards. Likewise, because we are capable of rendering type in italics, you underline titles only when writing them by hand or using software that doesn’t italicize. As long as you remember that underlining equals italics and to never underline when you can italicize, you’re good.

You can get pretty far by following the “Big/heavy equals italics” (like books) and “Small/light equals quotes” (like poems) generalizations.

As for enclosing titles in quotation marks or italicizing them, you can get pretty far by following the “Big/heavy equals italics” (like books) and “Small/light equals quotes” (like poems) generalizations, but Associated Press style doesn’t italicize nothin’ and Chicago style has layers of specificity and if-then statements. Fun!

Because the Associated Press stylebook is not indexed and the manual for Chicago style covers title style in several sections (intermixed with name style and capitalization style), some title styles may have been inadvertently omitted due to oblivion on my part. Please send me a note if any oversight makes you twitch.

It’s all arbitrary, so go for clarity and sustainability.

Following is the breakdown between AP style and Chicago style. This is intended as a quick rundown or cheat sheet; for examples of each, please refer to the pages and sections indicated. “Neither” means that the usual headline-style (or title-style) caps still apply, but the title/name is naked as far as quotes and italics are concerned. (Capitalization for titles will be covered in a future blog entry.)

Note: Use Command-F or Ctrl-F to perform searches.

 

Titles for . . . AP Chicago
Albums Quotes (p. 62) Italics (8.192)
Almanacs Neither (p. 62)
Apps Neither (p. 62), e.g., Facebook, Foursquare Italics (8.193)
Art Quotes (p. 62) Italics (8.193)
Articles Quotes (8.175)
Bible Neither (p. 62)
Blog entries Quotes (8.187)
Blogs Italics (8.187)
Books Quotes (p. 62)—but the Bible and catalogs of reference material use neither Italics (8.166)—but book series and editions use neither (8.174)
Cartoons Italics (8.194)
Catalogs Neither (p. 62)
Chapters Quotes (8.175)
Classical music, nicknames Quotes (p. 63)
Classical music, identified by sequence Neither (p. 63)
Columns (in periodicals) Neither (8.175, 14.205)
Comic strips Italics (8.194)
Computer games and computer-game apps Quotes (p. 62), e.g., “Farmville” Italics (Chicago Style Q&A)
Computer software Neither for software such as WordPerfect or Windows (p. 62)
Conferences Neither (8.69)—unless it has “status,” then use quotes
Departments (in periodicals) Neither (8.175, 14.202)
Dictionaries Neither (p. 62)
Directories Neither (p. 62)
Drawings Italics (8.193)
Encyclopedias Neither (p. 62)
Essays Quotes (8.175)
Exhibitions (large) Neither (8.195)
Exhibitions (small) Italics (8.195)
Fairs (large) Neither (8.195)
Fairs (small) Italics (8.195)
Gazetteers Neither (p. 62)
Handbooks Neither (p. 62)
Journals Italics (8.166)—unless part of name of award, organization, etc. (8.170)
Lecture series Neither (8.86)
Lectures (individual) Quotes (p. 62) Quotes (8.86)
Magazines Neither (p. 159) Italics (8.166)—unless part of name of award, organization, etc. (8.170)
Meetings Neither (8.69)—unless it has “status,” then use quotes
Movies Quotes (p. 62) Italics (8.185)
Newspapers Italics (8.166)—unless part of name of award, organization, etc. (8.170)
Operas Quotes (p. 62) Italics (8.189)—for long musical compositions or instrumental works, see 8.189-8.190
Paintings Italics (8.193)
Pamphlets Italics (8.193)
Periodicals Italics (8.166), unless part of name of award, organization, etc. (8.170)
Photographs Italics (8.193)
Plays Quotes (p. 62) Italics (8.181)
Podcast episodes Quotes (8.187)
Podcasts Italics (8.187)
Poems Quotes (p. 62) Quotes (8.179)—unless book length, then treated as book (italics)
Radio episodes (in series) Quotes (8.185)
Radio programs and series Quotes (p. 62) Italics (8.185)
Reports Italics (8.193)
Short stories Quotes (8.175)
Songs Quotes (p. 62) Quotes (8.189)
Speeches Quotes (p. 62) Neither (8.75)—unless it has “status,” then use quotes.
Statues Italics (8.193)
Television episodes (in series) Quotes (8.185)
Television programs and series Quotes (p. 62) Italics (8.185)
Unpublished works Quotes (8.184)
Video blogs Italics (8.187)
Video-blog episodes Quotes (8.187)
Web pages and sections Quotes (8.186)
Websites Neither (8.186)

When it gets confusing, just remember these golden rules of copyediting:

  1. Whatever you choose, be consistent.
  2. But beware of having a tin ear.
  3. It’s all arbitrary, so go for clarity and sustainability.

Good luck.