I have been to more than a few “Cons” in my time—most of them fan conventions, but some professional conferences as well. Recently, I attended the Red Pencil Conference, hosted by the Northwest Independent Editors Guild. The event—designed to help editors to brush up on their knowledge, gain some new skills, and network—took place over the course of a day, and featured a keynote speaker, nine information sessions, and a lecture about the new edition of the Chicago Manual of Style by none other than Carol Fisher Saller, editor of the Chicago Manual of Style Online‘s Q&A section and author of the book The Subversive Copy Editor.
The highlight for most people (certainly the group I had travelled there with) was this presentation. After coming in early from the break to stake out seats towards the front of the room, we were excited to see Carol—such a well-known figure in editing—introduce the changes to CMOS herself.
Here’s the thing that most people don’t expect to learn about the head editor of a manual of rules: Carol is funny. She cracked jokes. She shared gossip about the discussions over the rule revisions. She included her Bitmoji (an emoji version of herself) on a slide. Carol started in on the changes to CMOS the same way you would discuss an inside joke with a best friend.
And then she got to the singular “they.” The singular they has gotten a lot of traction within publishing-world news, and the editors of CMOS decided to reintroduce a rule for it (the rule had been included in the fourteenth edition, but had been left out in the fifteenth and sixteenth). While she did clarify that there are now two different rules for the usage of the singular they—one pertaining to a person’s preferred pronoun, the other being “a generic pronoun referring to a person of unspecified gender”—the singular they can still be a fairly contentious subject.
There is an idea—one we’ve referred to here at Ex Libris before—that an infinite number of monkeys, given typewriters and sufficient time, will eventually write a Shakespearean play. Based on the positive reaction to that presentation, the same could be said about editors: an infinite number of editors, given infinite manuscripts and sufficient time, would eventually create the Chicago Manual of Style. Despite sitting in a room full of editors from all professional backgrounds and all types of publications, each with their own individual style sheet, there was not a single objection in the room to the proposed treatment of the singular they. Carol herself remarked that she expected more backlash after announcing the rule. It seems the Chicago Manual of Style had finally come to a resolution that we could all side with—because it made sense.
While there were other issues that were hotly debated throughout the day (style guide organization and the en-dash among them), there were far more issues that were agreed upon, all in the pursuit of clarity for the reader. While the sessions I attended gave me some tips and tricks to use in my editing, the biggest thing I took away from the day was a reaffirmed sense of how editing serves both the author and the reader. The editor should go to bat for an author’s intentions, but they should also step back and realize how the reader receives it. Having a strong editor on your side can do wonders for your manuscript, and until infinite editors do create a universal style guide, you’ll want to make sure that the editor you work with matches well with your editing style.
And if they happen to use the Chicago Manual of Style, it wouldn’t hurt.