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Doctor, Doctor, what's the correct abbreviation for doctor!?!
August 29, 2006 11:52 PM   Subscribe

InaneQuestionFilter: When you abbreviate doctor, does it get a full-stop? ie. should it be Dr or Dr.?

I know this seems like a silly question, but I can't seem to find a consistent answer, either among the people I work with (mainly academics) or online (maybe I don't know what to search for).

From what I remember in high school english class, an abbreviation only gets a full-stop when the last letter of the abbreviation is not the last letter of the word. So, prof. gets a full-stop, but Jr doesn't.

However, this doesn't seem to apply to titles. People seem to continually write doctor with a full-stop. Mister is even worse, even though 'Mr' ends in the 'r', everyone writes it with a full-stop.

So, what's the official word? 'Dr' with or without a full-stop (I'd like to get my e-mail sig right!)?
posted by ranglin to Writing & Language (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
In American English, it always takes the period (full stop), as does Jr., Mr., or Mrs. It appears to be much looser in British English and its variants, though, with the tendency to drop the period.
posted by scody at 12:00 AM on August 30, 2006


I'd've said 'no', for the reason you've stated. It's a contraction, rather than an abbreviation.

I don't think anyone's going to get nailed to anything for getting this 'wrong' though... just try to be consistent.
posted by pompomtom at 12:03 AM on August 30, 2006


I know this seems like a silly question, but I can't seem to find a consistent answer

That's because there isn't one. It depends entirely on your style guide. The general movement in style is towards fewer full stops for abbreviations, particularly in the UK (e.g. The Economist, which retains them for 'e.g.' and not much else) but it's entirely dictated by who you're writing for.
posted by holgate at 12:04 AM on August 30, 2006


Ditto scody. If you're in the U.S., use the period. If you're somewhere else, you've probably got bigger grammar problems to worry about.
posted by limeonaire at 12:21 AM on August 30, 2006


Just seconding that here in Australia (and presumably the rest of the 'UK English' speaking world) we drop the period. It's 'Dr' on my Doc's business card anyhow.
posted by Serial Killer Slumber Party at 12:39 AM on August 30, 2006


If it was me, I'd lose the full stop.

If you're looking for a "right" answer, there probably isn't one, as it's a question of style. If you're interacting mainly with people who use the dot, then maybe you should use it so they don't think you're sloppy or lazy --- especially if you're in a field that has a style guide that's "industry standard".

The main thing's consistency, though.
posted by robcorr at 12:39 AM on August 30, 2006


Oh, you're an Aussie. That makes life even more interesting. The Queensland governmental style guide draws from the federal style guide, and that has the abbreviation/contraction distinction -- which, to be honest, was unfamiliar to me. In short: no full stop.
posted by holgate at 12:40 AM on August 30, 2006


What about St. Patrick?

As always it depends who you're writing for, and I agree with what people have said above. The new style being warmly adopted in Britian seems to be leaning towards make everything look like a word with no periods and only grudging use of caps. Which of these is more readable to you:

Several scientists in the study had obviously suspicious credentials—e.g. all five of NASA's Dr. I. O. Yu's M.D.'s.

Several scientists in the study had obviously suspicious credentials—eg all five of Nasa's Dr IO Yu's MDs.


Grant me the second apostrophe in the first sentence.

I've got a personal theory is that the trend is away from . in abbreviations because modern 'casual electronic typesetting' doesn't add proper spacing after a real full stop. The space between sentences shrinks, so the period has to stand out more, so less of them are used. This theory is probably utter crap.
posted by fleacircus at 1:13 AM on August 30, 2006


Traditionally, this was one of the differences between Oxford and Cambridge house styles. If you look at a book printed at the Clarendon Press (= Oxford University Press), you'll find that it prints 'Mr.' and 'Dr.' with a full stop. If you look at a book printed at Cambridge University Press, you'll find that it prints 'Mr' and 'Dr' with no full stop.

Stanley Morison upheld the Cambridge rule, and I have a copy of a letter of his, dated 1950, in which he writes that 'Mr' and 'Dr' 'ought not to have the full point after the lower case "r" .. The rule is that full points do not come after contractions where the last letter of the full word is the last letter of the contraction.' (Stan is The Man as far as I am concerned, and anything he says has the status of holy writ.)

I am pleased to say that Oxford has now seen the error of its ways. OUP now follows the Cambridge rule, and prints 'Mr' and 'Dr' with no full stop. (I can't pinpoint exactly when this change took place, but taking a sample of OUP books on my shelves, it seems to have been some time in the mid-1980s.) As holgate says, this is part of a general trend towards fewer full stops in abbreviations.
posted by verstegan at 1:52 AM on August 30, 2006


My copy of the Chicago Manual of Style, 14th Edition, is surprisingly non-authoritative on the issue:
14.2 It is often an open question whether or not periods should be used with particular abbreviations. The trend now is strongly away from the use of periods with all kinds of abbreviations that have carried them in the past. In the Press's view this is to the good: anything that reduces the fussiness of typography makes for easier reading.
From my experience, Americans (and Canadians?) seem to always use the full-stop, while the British (and Australians?) usually omit it.
posted by neckro23 at 2:23 AM on August 30, 2006


because modern 'casual electronic typesetting' doesn't add proper spacing after a real full stop.

I suspect the opposite applies, particularly in newspapers and magazines. That's to say, modern print output is of sufficient quality and versatility to permit lighter typography -- for instance, small-caps in lieu of full stops to distinguish abbreviations, as seen in the Economist. It certainly made more sense to use full stops if you were working with little more than Times 10pt in hot metal presses; but the 'traditional' contraction would have been Dr .
posted by holgate at 2:33 AM on August 30, 2006


Several scientists in the study had obviously suspicious credentials—e.g. all five of NASA's Dr. I. O. Yu's M.D.'s.

Several scientists in the study had obviously suspicious credentials—eg all five of Nasa's Dr I O Yu's MDs.


I guess I'm just an old fogey when it comes to these matters of typographic etiquette, but I quite prefer the top form to the latter. It's far easier to pick off at a glance the Dr. and M.D.—which is precisely where the Chicago Manual of Style gets it all wrong.

…anything that reduces the fussiness of typography makes for easier reading.

Should read:

…anything that reduces the fussiness of typography makes for easier reading.

Balls to the poor typographer. What's needed is clarity of understanding not clarity of type. Anything that muddles the meaning of a sentence should be avoided, anything that enhances it should be embraced. I say keep the full-stops, Cambridge be damned.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:37 AM on August 30, 2006


Honestly, as long as you are consistent, it doesn't really matter. I personally don't like sudden. full. stops. in the middle of a sentence but as long as you keep the same style throughout all your correspondence nothing should jar.
posted by randomination at 4:29 AM on August 30, 2006


It is defintely a style issue rather than a rule. In writing for various medical journals, for instance, which often use the American Medical Association Style Manual, nearly all periods for abbreviations are dropped, including for Dr, and in writing this way I personally have come to prefer it. Sometimes it's hard to tell where one sentence ends and another begins when periods are used in abbreviations.

However, other than AMA style writing, it seems that the periods are used frequently used. As others have said, being consistent is the most important thing.
posted by tentacle at 5:28 AM on August 30, 2006


I don’t quite know what Fleacircus is talking about. You can type as many spaces as you want after a period in a Web page and they will all be reduced to one. If you want a higher number of visible spaces, you have to use another character, like em space or nonbreaking space.

Other “casual electronic typesetting” like word-processing documents, chat, and E-mail can use multiple spaces and, in many cases, characters other than simple word space. I typeset em spaces in shitty Microsoft Word documents all the time.
posted by joeclark at 6:09 AM on August 30, 2006


the only instance of "Dr" i knew without the fullstop was from "Dr Pepper".
posted by kendrak at 7:23 AM on August 30, 2006


I don’t quite know what Fleacircus is talking about.

In typing class, apparently, people are taught to hit the space bar twice after a sentence's terminating period (and from this discussion I learn that non-North American English speakers call a period a "stop"). Since I never took typing, one space is fine with me (as is Mr, Dr, & etc without a period, the way I see these honorifics in British novels).
posted by Rash at 8:16 AM on August 30, 2006


I'm an American and I prefer the British parsimony with periods. Except when abbreviating the United States to U.S. -- then I keep the periods. Too easy to confuse with "us."

The whole "two spaces after a period" is (to me) an interesting subject that engenders heated opinions on both sides, with several explanations for how it came to be, why it is good, and why it is bad.

I have heard the following:
1) That in good old-fashioned typesetting, there was a wider space used to break sentences; the double-space in typewriting is intended to mimic that;
2) That the double-space is peculiar to typewriting, and evolved to help distinguish sentence breaks from abbreviations with periods in the middle of sentences. This only became an issue with typewriters because typewriters were used for business correspondence, where abbreviations are common, whereas typeset text generally avoided abbreviations, and didn't have special handling for them.

There's probably some truth to both these. But you can put me down in the anti-two-space camp.
posted by adamrice at 9:30 AM on August 30, 2006


My copy of the Chicago Manual of Style, 14th Edition, is surprisingly non-authoritative on the issue

Dude, get with the times! The 15th edition says:
15.4 Periods: general guidelines. To avoid unnecessary periods in abbreviations, Chicago recommends the following general guidelines: use periods with abbreviations that appear in lowercase letters; use no periods with abbreviations that appear in full capitals or small capitals, whether two letters or more...

p. e.g. a.k.a. etc. p.m. vol. et al. (et is not an abbreviation; al. is)

VP CEO USA AAUP BCE

15.5 Periods: exceptions and options. Obviously, Chicago's guidelines are subject to modification. For example, periods are used after initials standing for given names (E. B. White, G. K. Chesterton); strict scientific style omits all periods (m, cm, kg [see 15.55]); traditionalists may draw the line at "PhD" or "US" (Chicago bows to tradition on the latter); the British and the French (among others) omit periods from contractions (Dr, assn, Mme).
posted by languagehat at 11:48 AM on August 30, 2006


Beat by the 'Hat! I was just about to quote that exact section from the 15th edition myself.
posted by scody at 11:54 AM on August 30, 2006


(Ah, but at least I can still chime in on the one-space/two-space, red fish/blue fish question.)

Also from Chicago, 15th ed.:
2.12 Line spacing and word spacing. [...] A single character space, not two spaces, should be left after periods on the ends of sentences (both in manuscript and in final, published form) and after colons. [...]
Of course, when I learned to type, I learned the old rule of putting two spaces after a period (as did most of the authors I work with as an editor), so when I'm preparing manuscript for design, I always do a find-and-replace to change any rogue double-spaces for singles.
posted by scody at 11:59 AM on August 30, 2006


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