Posts Tagged ‘Capitalization’

It’s been a while since I wrote a post about abuse of the written word. I’ve mentioned some of the following unfortunate trends in posts from years past — and these trends continue to irritate — so, if you’re a longtime subscriber, please forgive any repetition.

To start with the equivalent of discharging a shotgun into a 55-gallon drum of mackerel:

  • English is not German. Of late, a lot of writers seem not to realize this. Thus there’s the regrettable trend of capitalizing Common Nouns for no apparent Reason, or for the transparent but unspoken Reason that the Writer can’t think of a better Way to add Emphasis.
  • Perhaps even worse is the ever-more-common practice of placing hyphens between adverbs and adjectives. The most extreme example of such semi-literate usage is placing a hyphen between an adverb ending in “ly” and a following adjective. As I mentioned ages ago, the “ly” ending is almost literally jumping in the air, waving its arms, and screaming, “Look at me! Look at me! I’m part of an adverb!” This type of barbaric, worse-than-useless hyphenization reveals that all too many people don’t know the parts of speech, nor how to properly use them.  This is a very-bad thing.
  • Misuse of punctuation is rife, particularly the misuse of semicolons. There are only two correct ways of using semicolons: the first is to link two closely related complete sentences; the second is to separate items in a list (usually beginning with a colon). Unfortunately, a lot of writers seem to regard semicolons as an exotic type of spice and toss handfuls of them, seemingly at random, into their verbal stews, at times in place of commas. Or should that be,  “. . . into their verbal stews; at times in place of commas”? No, it shouldn’t. That; would be wrong.
  • Another regrettable example of the Germanization of English is the entirely unnecessary and increasingly common placement of commas between the words in age-old compound nouns comprised of separate words. Or should that be compound-nouns comprised of separate-words? No, it shouldn’t; that wouldn’t make “common-sense.” (The final stage in this trend is the fusing of two words into one. Occasionally this produces a sonorous result, as in “motorcycle,” but more often produces a cacophonous one, as in “thinktank.”)
  • Finally, “and” is not part of the infinitive. Again, most people seem not to realize this, and would see nothing wrong with the following: “I’ll try and write a grammatically correct sentence.” If that’s not ugly enough to convince you, please consider that, in addition to being the correct word, “to” is shorter than “and,” and conciseness is a good thing. If you doubt this, please try and tell us why.

by Chaz Bufe, publisher See Sharp Press

The rules for capitalization in English are a mess. Always have been, always will be.

But there are some “dos” and “don’ts.” When looking through submissions in recent years, I’ve noticed that more and more writers simply ignore those rules; they seem to think they’re Germans–semi-literate Germans–and capitalize nouns seemingly at random. (In German, all nouns are capitalized.)

In broad strokes, the first letters of the following should always be capitalized: 1) proper nouns; 2) the first words in sentences; 3) names of individuals; and 4) place names. There are many other words that customarily have initial caps, including some which probably shouldn’t, especially those capitalized to show respect, such as “Congress”–an institution only slightly more popular than death by asphyxiation and scabies.

The important things to remember are that capitalization in English is not entirely arbitrary, that you don’t capitalize ordinary nouns, and when in doubt, look it up. (There are many good, free, online guides, such as GrammarBook.)

If you want to impress an editor, do something unusual: use capitalization properly.

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