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OPINION | BRENDA LOOPER: Capital offense

by Brenda Looper | April 13, 2022 at 3:59 a.m.
Brenda Looper


Sometimes when you vent just a little, more comes out than you intend. So yeah, apparently I wasn't done talking about ways to irritate an editor (any editor).

Even watching Charlie napping in the chair beside me as I type isn't enough to keep me from being a little irked. And that cat is adorable!

Yet not adorable enough to stop me from venting a bit more.

You might notice that you'll rarely see anything written in all capital letters in the paper unless it's an acronym, and even then generally only with a first reference that spells it out. Are we biased against capital letters? Nah. It's about readability. A mix of upper- and lowercase letters is much easier to read than all upper- or lowercase letters. But that mix should be in accordance with common grammar rules.

I'm not talking about the Internet practice of wRitINg LikE tHis tO MoCK sOmeONe (good lord, is that annoying), but of the habit, seen in documents like the Constitution, of randomly capitalizing words.

If you want an editor's blood pressure to rise and their eyes to bulge, send them something like this: Charlie was Indignant that His sitter Didn't Immediately hop to whenever he Called to her. First she wouldn't Let him stay Outside to Menace kevin The squirrel, Then she Ignored his demands For the entire Bag of Treats.

Some poor editor has to go through that, figure out which capitalizations are correct and fix all the rest of them. The editor deserves the whole bag of treats, and they'd better be chocolate.

One of the arguments I've seen for this random capitalization is that it's to emphasize certain words since not all email systems see text the same way, and italics and bold print may not make it through. I find that difficult to reconcile when words like "of" and "the" end up being capitalized when they're not the first word in the sentence. Heck, you can write the words you want to emphasize in all caps and it'll be less annoying.

Let's try a few basic rules of capitalization from Grammarly. Capitalize: the first word of a sentence; names and other proper nouns (names like mom, senator, etc., are capitalized if used as a form of address, as in "It was Mom who gave me permission," but not as a general reference, as in "The senator declined to comment."); days, months and holidays, but not seasons; the first word of a quote if it's a complete sentence; most words in titles; and cities, countries, nationalities and languages (I would also add planets to that). There are other rules, but that's a good start.

I feel my blood pressure lowering already ...

I noted last week how annoying it is when a writer refuses to spellcheck, opting instead to have the editor do it for him because surely she doesn't have enough to do. But there's a category of words that spellcheck wouldn't help with: homophones.

Homophones are sets of words having the same pronunciation, but different origins, meanings, and/or spellings. To, two, and too are examples of well-known homophones, as are there, they're and their. (You might remember this joke: How do you comfort a grammar grouch? Say softly, "There, their, they're.") By comparison, a homograph has the same spelling but may have a different sound and meaning (like lead, to go in front of, and lead, the metal). Homonym is a broader term that may refer to either or both ... because life and grammar aren't confusing enough, though technically homonyms are words spelled or pronounced alike, but with different meanings.

Now that you're thoroughly confused, understand that more than a few editors will laugh off the occasional "lead" (the metal) instead of "led" (past tense of lead, meaning to go before), or "verses" (parts of songs or poems) instead of "versus" (against), but seeing it consistently drives some of us (OK, me) bonkers. It implies at best a lack of knowledge and/or attention to detail, and at worst, a lack of respect.

Some of this can be put down to use of "talk-to-text" programs that can't sense that you wanted "red" instead of "read" or that misheard what you said. (Oh, Siri, surely you didn't think I really said "eagle testicle" instead of "egotistical.") But that's one of the reasons you should always reread before hitting "send," lest the receiver wonder about your knowledge of eagle anatomy.

I dictate handwritten letters and those in all caps into my iPad to save my poor hands. I have broadcast and theater training, and even I can't speak clearly enough to ensure that what I meant is what the AI decides I've said. Sometimes I believe Siri thinks I'm only slightly more articulate than Boomhauer from "King of the Hill." Maybe true when I've just woken up (especially if it's after surgery; I'm apparently hilarious then), but not as a rule.

I could, like others, use talk-to-text for my email or text messages, but I already have enough trouble with autocorrect changing what I typed. (Why change "antics" to "antibiotics"? In what universe does that make sense?) Those willing to take the chance are braver than I am. And most likely more knowledgeable about eagle anatomy.


Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Email her at blooper@adgnewsroom.com. Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com.


Print Headline: Capital offense

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