Review of “But Can I Start a Sentence with ‘But’?” by The University of Chicago Press Editorial Staff

Can a grammar/usage/style book be “cute”? Usually not, but this one manages – well, at least if you’re into grammar/usage/style books.


This book is a short compilation of some questions and answers taken from the website of The Chicago Manual of Style. Basically, most of the answers tend towards advice along the lines of “follow common sense,” “do what makes the text most readable,” and “convention often outweighs logic.” But many of the answers are quite humorous, such as in this exchange:

Q. Is it “happy medium” or “happy median”? My author writes: “We would all be much better served as stewards of finite public funds if we could find that happy median where trust reigns supreme.” Thanks!

A. The idiom is “happy medium,” but I like the image of commuters taking refuge from road rage on the happy median.

Or this one:

Q. How do you spell out the sound of a scream? I’ve seen everything from “aaagh!” to “aahhh!” Please tell me there’s a limit to the number of times one can repeat letters!

A. There is a limit to the number of times one can repeat letters! Unfortunately, the limit is different in almost every case.

There is plenty of “actual” advice of course, such as guidance for citing URLs, illustrations, album names, abbreviations, and so on.

Evaluation: To be honest, unless you write, edit, or publish, you probably would not find this book all that essential for your happiness. Jim and I are both kind of nerdy, however, and enjoyed it quite a bit.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by The University of Chicago Press, 2016


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6 Responses to Review of “But Can I Start a Sentence with ‘But’?” by The University of Chicago Press Editorial Staff

  1. I’m with you and Jim. I love grammar, et al.

  2. Jeanne says:

    I could use this book at work (I direct a college Writing Center) except that we don’t have any budget for buying books this year. Still, I’ll put it on my wish list.

  3. BermudaOnion says:

    There is a Facebook group for the city we live in. One day someone posted that she was looking for a “median” because she thought her house was haunted. I had fun watching the comments on that one all day long. The book sounds fun to me.

  4. Ha! I get such a kick out of snarky grammar people. The UChicago Q&As are always a lot of fun, so I’ll definitely need to try this out.

  5. Beth F says:

    I always read the CMS Q&A’s … I’m on their website pretty much every single day for work

  6. litandlife says:

    Hmmm, well, I don’t write all that much any more. But I’m kind of nerdy that way, too. This one definitely intrigues me!

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