The Yoga of Copy Editing

The name "Muhammad" in traditional T...
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Recently I’ve been working on a monograph on Islamic dream interpretations. This has been a stretch for me as I am not overly familiar with either Islam or Arabic. However, it’s just the kind of exercise I like.

When referring to only the family name of someone, is the Arabic particle capitalized? Is it Al-Jibaly or al-Jibaly, ibn Sirin or Ibn Sirin? According to Chicago 8:17, it’s the latter in both cases. “Al-” means “of” and “ibn” means “son of.” Can’t make a blanket yes or no rule here. Nope, couldn’t be that easy.


Both Chicago style (7.54) and the publisher’s style guide state that familiar foreign words and phrases are not italicized. Familiar to whom? I might be familiar with terms like imam, sura, and Ummah, but is the average reader? I decide by consulting the publisher’s dictionary of choice, Merriam-Webster’s collegiate. (Imam and sura are in there and thus set Roman; Ummah is not and therefore is italicized.)


And then, there are things that are just customary or respectful or, to be honest, just feel right. When writing about Muhammed, it is customary (both in Islam and Chicago 8:100!) to capitalize “Prophet” even when not followed by his name, e.g., “The Prophet explained that good dreams bring glad tidings.” However, in this manuscript I have lowercased “angel,” as in, “She dreamed of the Prophet and angels surrounding her.” The author capitalizes seemingly everything; I not only need to set “imam” as Roman but need to lowercase it here. Perhaps the author is being a wee bit too respectful.

Copy editing decisions are yoga for my brain.

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