By Denise Loock
Arbitrary capitalization wreaks havoc in written communication. Numerous nouns have been exalted to proper status even though they’re common and should remain common. Revolutionary
writers cry, “Aren’t all nouns created equal?”
We editors should proclaim, “No, they’re not.”
Basic capitalization rules haven’t changed since we learned them in elementary school. Capitalize proper nouns—names of particular people, places, things, or ideas (Queen Elizabeth, Protestant Reformation). Don’t capitalize common nouns—names of people, places, things, or ideas in general (queen, reformation).
Simple. So why do many writers ignore these rules?
The current capitalization chaos may have been passed down to us unintentionally by our forefathers. In centuries past, writers used initial uppercase letters to emphasize and embellish. Thomas Jefferson began the Declaration of Independence this way: “When in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People …”
Authors, bloggers, and tweeters worldwide have revived this outdated practice. Who’s to say what should be capitalized? If I believe chocolate deserves proper noun status, why should it remain common? Chocolate holds a lofty position in my world, far above any other confection. That iconoclastic mindset leads to the capitalization of words such as patriotism or democracy. Christian writers often capitalize nouns they value: cross, truth, and believer.
Several other capitalization dilemmas plague Christian writers. For example, heaven identifies a particular place—as does hell. Should they be capitalized? The Chicago Manual of Style, Merriam-Webster Dictionary, and The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style (CWMS) say no.
CWMS devotes fourteen pages to “Capitalization of Religious Terms.” Some of its recommendations surprised me: chosen people (Jews), church (body of Christ and a local congregation), the devil (Satan), and the exodus (from Egypt). Also unexpected were garden of Eden, ark of the covenant, and gentile. Other words remain uncapitalized: temple, tabernacle, patriarch, and magi.
Many Christian writers capitalize pronouns that refer to God—such as He, His, You, and Me. But most publishers, Christian and secular, discourage this practice. The running text may conflict
with Scripture quotations if the Bible version cited doesn’t capitalize the pronouns. Some readers, unfamiliar with this means of honoring God, may be more confused than enlightened by the uppercase letters.
The deity pronoun issue becomes more convoluted in novels. Should the pronouns be capitalized regardless of who’s speaking—atheist, skeptic, or Christian? To avoid confusion, editors should recommend lowercase pronouns in dialogue and narrative.
Writers value independent thought and creative license, but individualism creates chaos in the capitalization world. To harness your clients’ uppercase urges, recommend the following:
- Create emphasis with word choice and sentence structure instead of uppercase letters.
- Admit that personal preferences aren’t the standard, and yield to the recognized authorities in the publishing industry.
- Purchase the online edition the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary.
- Purchase the 2016 edition of The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style.
Capitalization is a helpful tool, but let’s defer to style manuals and the dictionary on proper usage. Since the goal of writing is clear communication, nouns should remain unequal. Sorry about that, Thomas Jefferson.
Denise Loock is a general editor for LPC Books also accepts freelance projects. She teaches Editing Devotionals 101 and Sentence Diagramming 101 for The PEN Institute. As the director of PENCON 2021, she’s committed to helping editors and proofreaders learn new skills, grow their business, and network with other industry professionals.
Contact – firstname.lastname@example.org
General Editor – LPCBooks
Owner – Lightning Editing Services
Founder – Dig Deeper Devotions
Author – Open Your Hymnal Again and Open Your Hymnal