For a while now, I’ve been one of those people who use periods in most abbreviations (TV being one exception that I’m willing to make); in fact, I’ll probably keep being one of those people. But since I’m also a perfectionist, when I finish my degree I’ll want to—have to—need to know, once and for all, how to display it for the world: Is it MFA or M.F.A.? The Chicago Manual of Style‘s official position on this issue is that the periods do not belong. Well, I guess that’s it then.
Chicago is well respected, and in fact, I use it almost daily at work; I paid for my own subscription and even bought the massive hardcover print edition, just in case the power goes out and I need to know where to put a comma or when to capitalize a directional word. This manual of style is almost godlike, at least as godlike as anything can be with regard to style, in a world where language is constantly evolving. It could be considered the writer’s bible. We should remember, however, that most bibles in a modern context have points of contention; there are outdated models, wrong conclusions with seemingly right intentions, levels of subjectivity. There are mistakes, and there are disagreements.
On this point, the abbreviated master of fine arts, my instinct at this point in my life is to stray from Chicago: I need the periods in M.F.A. like I need seven holes in my head—which is to say pretty badly. The brief visual pause created by the period in between letters allows me to savor each letter, to register my disbelief and awe. After 4 years of part-time study, I’m going to have an M.F.A.
But will my stance on the periods change in time? Is this something I can grow out of? How do you abbreviate academic degrees? Is one way more right than another? How many licks does it take to get to the center of a hardcover Chicago Manual of Style?
The world may never know.
UPDATE: I’ve since wavered on my opinion. I’ll probably waver again. This is so distressing.