Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Trends in Capitalization

Capital letters are in interesting part of the English language. Famously, author e.e. cummings refused to use them, and in my recent copy ediing experiences, I've developed a new sympathy for his choice. Authors from all walks of life have developed a tendency to capitalize words they consider important. I can't blame this one on texting or Facebook, either - while I say authors "have developed," I don't mean it's a particularly recent development. I'm just surprised that, in spite of e.e. cummings' best efforts, this trend continues.

A capital letter at the beginning of a word does not determine importance, despite evident feelings to he contrary. Nor does a lowercase letter at the beginning of a word diminish the word's importance. The most important word in any given sentence is the verb - and, unless it is at the beginning of the sentence, verbs are not capitalized (except in cases of trademarks that have become slang - "I Bedazzled my jeans"). 

The noun is really secondary; the verb gives us the action, and we all enjoy action, right? Especially copy editors. I certainly love action, in reading and in life. What I don't like is overinflated ego, and I think, visually, that's how I interpret improper capitalization. Capitalization, though, should be reserved for proper nouns and the first letter of the first word at the beginning of a sentence. Instead of designating degree of importance, capital letters serve as a tool, one similar to the copyright or trademark symbols. 

An example:

"There aren't enough Apples this season."
"There aren't enough apples this season."

Speaking of overinflated egos...that first sentence makes Apple a proper noun, which indicates you'd like celebrity fruit names to become a trend. In the second sentence, we are referring to something that grows on a tree and feeds people. 

Is one of those nouns more important than the other? I would argue affirmatively...and it has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not it starts with a capital letter!

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