Capital Offenses

Remember the elementary school rule to capitalize proper names of “persons, places, and things”? It all seemed so simple, but once you go beyond “see Spot run,” the rule becomes less clear.

Judy is the judge on television. Do you ever watch Judge Judy?

The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land.

I’m going to visit our president in the White House, and then go back to my white house.

See the difference?

When you add an abbreviation, look out. Or in my case, look up … I am constantly referring back to The Chicago Manual of Style.

Clarence Thomas, JD (Juris Doctor aka Doctor of Law), is a Supreme Court judge.

So his academic title is in caps. Great. But instead of a law degree, what if he were a doctor of philosophy, a PhD?

Why isn’t the “h” capitalized like JD or DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) or DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine)? I don’t know!

Here’s more “abbreviation-capitalization” crazy:

HIV – all caps; Dr. – not. NFR (National Finals Rodeo) all caps, Mr. – not. Supposedly, all caps for words that are abbreviations of proper names, lower case for others, like mpg. If that’s the case, isn’t “Dr.” an abbreviation of a proper title – Doctor? Shouldn’t Dr. Zhivago be DR Zhivago?

Hmmm.

My last thought on caps (at least my current last thought) concerns words, even sentences, in all CAPS. I LOVE YOU. I MISS YOU. GONE TO HAWAII – WISH YOU WERE HERE.

I read this and immediately think the writer is shouting. I see BIG letters and think BIG voice. Obviously, the writer thinks the CAPITALIZED words are very very important, which makes me wonder. Are the rest of the words not important? Should I skip ’em?

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3 Comments

Filed under English language

3 responses to “Capital Offenses

  1. vic

    I believe the cap/non cap issue is that caps are for each individual word: HIV = Human Immunodeficiency Virus; DVM = Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, whereas lower case – the r in Mr. and the h in PhD – are because those letters do not represent individual words themselves.

    • redpengirl

      Your theory works in part, but it does not explain why “mpg” (miles per gallon) or “rpm” (revolutions per minute) are in lower case, as the letters represent individual words here as well.

  2. vic

    I guess it’s because you wouldn’t capitalize miles per gallon or revolutions per minute in a sentence anyway. My 1976 AMC (American Motor Corporation) Gremlin gets 20 miles per gallon on the highway, 16 in the city. And when Miles Per Gallon is capitalized, such as in an advertisement for a new car, I believe they also capitalize it as MPG in the abbreviated form. I think.

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