Category Archives: capitalization

Grammar Rocks

Before we do anything else, please watch this video from Grammar Rock about prepositions.

I know. It’s definitely not one of Schoolhouse Rock’s stronger moments, this one; it lacks the catchy elegance of “Conjunction Junction” or “Lolly Lolly Lolly get your adverbs here,” but I wanted to give you a quick refresher on what prepositions are, even though this isn’t really about prepositions, what I am about to say.

Now take a quick look at the titles of this, this, and this Wikipedia article.

We’re just looking at the titles here, not the articles themselves. Do you notice something about the prepositions? In standard English style, prepositions (except at the beginning) in titles are usually not capitalized, especially when they are short words. You’ll notice, too, that the, a, and an, except when they appear at the beginning of a title, are also not capitalized.

Wikipedia is not the arbiter of style (I am working on a DailyWritingTip about terminal S and apostrophes, and I am coming after Wikipedia loaded for BEAR!), but in general the community does manage to get most things right. In this way, we have articles about The Cat in the Hat, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” and “Over the River and through the Woods.” Many people feel the need to capitalize EVERY word in a title, but that’s not you or me, because we know better, right?

You will please thank me for resisting my usual temptation to get punny by asking if I may preposition you.

Change With a Capital C

In this election season, there are a few rules about capitalization you should keep in mind.

The United States is a democracy.  The current mayor of Honolulu is a Democrat, while the current governor of Hawaii is a Republican.  When speaking of the political parties, don’t forget to capitalize them.  I am a libertarian, but only when I remember to pay party dues am I a Libertarian.

When using elected offices as titles, always capitalize, as in Senator Inouye and Representative Hirono.  When referring to the offices, don’t capitalize, as in the representatives and senators from your state.

There is only one President, and his name is George W. Bush.  Former presidents are addressed as Mr. Clinton, Mr. Bush, and Mr. Carter.  I guess this isn’t really a capitalization issue, but it’s worth mentioning.

The president of your company is just the president (unless you’re addressing him with a title, such as President Redenbacher).  George W. Bush is the President.  We capitalize president only for that one office.

I know there are differing opinions about these, so you may have to check the style manuals of whatever organization you’re writing for.  People tend to overcapitalize, so wherever you can get away with not capitalizing, I recommend you do!

Dissenting opinions, anyone?

Tales from the Internet

A few years ago, Wired magazine announced a stylistic change that, while well-reasoned, I have never agreed with, and I am interested in your take on this.

The esteemed magazine declared the Internet, the Net, and the Web no longer a big deal and instead just part of our everyday media, making the capitalizing of these words unnecessary and mechanically wrong by the standards of English. the case of internet, web and net, a change in our house style was necessary to put into perspective what the internet is: another medium for delivering and receiving information. That it transformed human communication is beyond dispute. But no more so than moveable type did in its day. Or the radio. Or television.

Wired insisted that this was not a “symbolic demotion” (‘though that’s certainly how it was spun when it was written about in other publications), but a linguistic correction.

My problem with this is that while there are no “the Radio,” “the Television,” or “the Newspaper,” there is still “the Internet.” Internet is a name, like the Wilson Tunnel, the Hoover Dam, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

I don’t even know if there is a Pennsylvania Turnpike, but if there is, it’s certainly capitalized, is it not? The Internet is truly as mundane and ubiquitous as Wired says it is, but what on Earth is more mundane and ubiquitous than Earth? Nothing, and we still capitalize that. The thing is, if you call your mother “mom,” you capitalize that word because as far as you’re concerned, that’s her name. If you refer to other people’s moms, as in Please tell your moms not to do your homework for you, you don’t capitalize it because you’re not using one person’s name.

Dissimilarly, the Internet is the only thing that is the Internet, despite many people’s insistence on using that name (incorrectly!) as a word for a connection to the Internet, as in My internet at home is screwed up.

With all due respect to the editors of Wired, I think they got this wrong, and because it often sets the pace in Internet-related discourse, it has done a disservice to the English language. resists this affront and asks that you join it in fighting back.

Go north from South America, then head east toward Western Kentucky

When using compass directions such as west, southwest, and north, do not capitalize the direction unless it is part of a name, as in East Coast Wrestling, or in reference to a geographic region commonly known by that name, such as the South (when referring to that part of the United States that falls south of the Mason-Dixon Line). References to southern California or the East Bay can be confusing, so my suggestion is that if you can reasonably put the in front of the compass direction, feel free to capitalize! The East Coast. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

I am not sure this is a foolproof guideline, so please let me know if you can either think of exceptions or describe a better way to decide!