Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Capital Punishment

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Would you like your steak Simply Grilled? Sky TV on a Big Screen and Bar Snacks served All Day. We sell Clothes and Accessories for Adults, Teenagers, Kids and Much More. I love it when Capital Letters are Abused.

This topic has quietly reared its repugnant little head a number of times in recent posts, but deviously managed to avoid scrutiny via a 'safety in grammatical howler numbers' policy. Well, no more. Your game is up Mr Rogue Majuscule. You've been plying your heinous trade for too long. It's time you got your comeuppance in the only language you really understand: brutal, ugly violence. Boris, fetch me the Stick. And a Towel.

I got carried away there but I would hope you understand my frustration. Capital letters are an important aspect of written English, but I've never been able to ascertain quite why people abuse them so much. After all, English has a reasonably simple set of rules: capitalise the first letter of sentences; capitalise the first letter of proper nouns (and adjectives which stem from proper nouns). There are subtleties, of course, but in general usage I can't see any real potential tripwires. So I suppose there must be something peculiar (or German) about the leagues of shop-owners, publicans and restaurateurs who, in some sort of bizarre homage to Jesse Ventura in Predator, seem compelled to spray thousands of arbitrary capital letters into their sentences until nothin', nothin' on this earth, coulda lived.

18th Century English apparently capitalised all written nouns (in the same way as modern German), but I find it difficult to believe that a faint linguistic hangover from this period is responsible for modern-day abuse. I think it is actually more to do with a lack of trust (or confidence?) in writing's power to deliver a simple message, and a desperation to emphasise.

It's as if the author of the typical 'blackboard' pub menu doesn't believe that the average punter can actually process more than three words at once, and hence it's a battle to keep their attention when you're telling them that the Chicken Balti w/ Rice comes with a free Pint of Lager.

I also think marketing and brand saturation plays a part. People are so used to branded goods that they're losing the ability to discern between lunch and Lunch. Christ – I bet there really is a brand of takeaway sandwiches called Lunch, isn't there? I daren't Google it.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

In extension to this article could you please remind your readers on the correct usage of capitals in titles; I believe this is an area where most confusion on which words to capitalise can occur.

6 November 2007 at 23:03  
Blogger Gez said...

Capitals in titles/headers? Massive grey area ahoy. Tom, you're the typography expert, care to comment?

7 November 2007 at 09:49  
Blogger Tom said...

Well there's a distinction to be made between titling in the sense of films and books, eg 'The Creature from the Black Lagoon', and titling in the sense of advertising or design-based stuff. The former is pretty strict in terms of keeping conjunctions and articles lowercase. The latter is more open to typographical interpretation.

7 November 2007 at 09:58  
Blogger Blue said...

There's at least one person on a paranormal forum I'm a member of who randomly capitalises words in the middle of sentences. Have yet to figure out why.

7 November 2007 at 16:37  
Blogger Gez said...

Blue, maybe it's not him CapItalising the lEtters In hIs posts. It Could bE a GHOsT.

7 November 2007 at 16:45  
Anonymous André McFarlane said...

I'm totally with you on this. It's quite ridiculous.

Similarly, I have a thing about the misuse of the not-so-humble apostrophe. A chip shop near my former home in Armadale offered Pizza's, kebab's and chips. I once asked them why they used an apostrophe unnecessarily. The girl doling out the fish suppers looked at me as though I was mad.

7 November 2007 at 18:01  
Blogger Gez said...

Welcome to our world, André. Click here for all posts labelled 'apostrophe abuse'.

7 November 2007 at 18:27  
Blogger J. Wilson said...

This is a very interesting post. I think that gramatical errors get used too far often... but the problem is that the people using them think that what they're writing is correct. Hmm...

If you get a chance, check out my blog at

8 November 2007 at 04:46  
Blogger seanyboy said...

I find myself doing this all the time, and I think you're right on the money with your comment about Brand Names. (There - I did it again). I seem to have slipped from capitalising correctly to capitalising every phrase that's in common usage.

It's annoying - And it's doubly annoying when I have to go through everything you've written trying to weed out excessive capitals.

8 November 2007 at 11:40  
Blogger seanyboy said...

And by "you've written", I mean "I've written."

That's a pretty embarrassing mistake on an English language blog. Me can speak English good.

8 November 2007 at 11:42  
Blogger Adam said...

Is "Google" a verb now? Are we allowing that? Or should you dare not "search Google" for information on the Lunch brand?

7 April 2008 at 21:37  
Blogger Adam said...

Imagine that. Just a few posts down, my favorite "Calvin & Hobbes" ever. And ammunition for my surely doomed crusade against the acceptance of "Google" as a verb.

7 April 2008 at 21:40  

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