1.23.2007

capital punishment

for someone as sensitive to others' grammar, usage, and punctuation as i am, i am pretty horrible when it comes to my own struggle with capitalization. i'm inconsistent and erratic, prone to capping Things That Ought Not To Be Capped in a perhaps overly-twee a.a. milnian manner, and generally speaking i realize that my flagrant disregard for the rules of the shift key does bring me down a notch when it comes to issuing critique for others' language-based shortcomings.

sometimes i get called out on this, and i sort of perversely love it. i've managed to come up with a set of retroactive justifications for my generally lowercase typing life. here they are:

capital letters are silly when used to...

...begin sentences.
if you are starting a sentence, it ought to be evident that you are starting a sentence because your new sentence ought to be preceded by either a piece of terminal punctuation, or an absence of other words. if you can't tell when a sentence is starting, you should consider reviewing the terminal punctuation marks and/or your ability to detect empty space.

...indicate the first person subject.
there is no reason to capitalize "i" to indicate the importance of the self, as evidenced by the fact that we do not capitalize the first-person object, "me." there is no reason to capitalize "i" because it is a single-letter word, because we do not capitalize the indefinite article, "a."

...indicate the names of people or places.
it just seems silly. if i say "we spent our holiday in zaire" or "i invited amy to your birthday party," you understand what i'm talking about.


capital letters are arguably okay when used to...

...disambiguate names and general nouns.
"we ate dinner at table last night" vs. "we at dinner at Table last night"
it helps clarify that you were at a pretentiously named restaurant (probably one with artisan bread and perhaps an in-dining-room hearth), and not that you were located at a piece of furniture and simply don't know how to use articles.

...identify a multi-word concept.
"last night we had the Maybe This Isn't Going Anywhere talk."
you could express this using quotes or hyphens or even italics, but it just isn't as elegant. as identified above, it's tres a.a. milne. when used with single words rather than full phrases ("i feel that Death is imminent"), it is tres emily dickinson.

...disambiguate unclear punctuation.
"our home has been invaded by panthers, robots, fascists, etc. we are going to go crazy." vs. "our home has been invaded by panthers, robots, fascists, etc. We are going to go crazy."
it helps indicate that you are not, in fact, engaged in a run-on sentence.

of course there are plenty of other random times when it is nice to capitalize things. for example, some typefaces have incredibly lovely uppercase Q's, the temporarily-forgotten names of which i'm sure ljd will illuminate in a comment.

10 comments:

Marcin said...

Your reasons are so stupid that I cannot even be bothered to refute them.

helen said...

shut up, marcin. they're brilliant.

ljd said...

Okay, I'll give a tip of the hat to the little-known Cartier -- pleasing in a wholly unobtrusive and non-ostentatious way, as is appropriate for a font that was expressly designed as a Gift to the Nation of Canada. I wrote a twenty-five-page paper on the designing of this font last year, if you want some further reading, you type nerd.

I would also recommend Baskerville, because the Q looks like three-quarters of an especially dapper moustache.

helen, why do I work in editorial instead of design?

helen said...

because you want to be just like me, darling.

helen said...

ps. LOVE the cap Q in cartier. well-played, sir.

Danielle said...

on a related note

http://www.danah.org/name.html

a phd student reflects on why she changed her name (including decapitalization)

Jess said...

I know this doesn't apply to all situations, but in the course of my job, I have discovered another reason to use capital letters to start sentences. When I format documents, I have to scan long paragraphs for the beginnings of sentences to make sure the spacing is consistent. It is very difficult to spot a period while skimming, but it becomes much easier when the period is followed by a capital letter.

Walter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Walter said...

I'm convinced. Henceforth I will always capitalize Me.

Marcin said...

If you don't want to capitalize AND punctuate, consider huffman-coding your speech.