No doubt you have felt frustrated or mystified about particular spelling or grammatical rules in your mother tongue. Spelling, grammar and pronunciation rules are so absorbed in our daily use of language that the basic why’s are no longer conscious or questioned, unless you are a six-year-old new entrant skilled at firing curly, uncensored questions at the teacher about those why’s.

When you learn a second, third or fourth language, the idiosyncrasies of the new language generate a healthy number of why’s because you’re comparing the rules of the new language with what you know.

My grievance

I’ve always had a gripe about the use of Capital Letters in English titles, long before typing capitals was regarded as screaming in emails or text/sms. (Someone surely has written about the why’s of email or text etiquette.)

The Capitalisation of Titles Rule is as follows (quoted from the website of the University of Sussex):

In the title or name of a book, a play, a poem, a film, a magazine, a newspaper or a piece of music, a capital letter is used for the first word and for every significant word (that is, a little word like theofand or in is not capitalized unless it is the first word):

I was terrified by The Silence of the Lambs.

The Round Tower was written by Catherine Cookson.

Bach’s most famous organ piece is the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.

I don’t usually like Cher, but I do enjoy The Shoop Shoop Song.

Important note: The policy just described is the one most widely used in the English-speaking world. There is, however, a second policy, preferred by many people. In this second policy, we capitalize only the first word of a title and any words which intrinsically require capitals for independent reasons. Using the second policy, my examples would look like this:

I was terrified by The silence of the lambs.

The round tower was written by Catherine Cookson.

Bach’s most famous organ piece is the Toccata and fugue in D minor.

I don’t usually like Cher, but I do enjoy The shoop shoop song.

You may use whichever policy you prefer, so long as you are consistent about it.

Did you notice that the why remains elusive? Perhaps it is a characteristic of spelling rules: they just are. This particular capitalisation rule is not a thing in the Dutch language.

It so annoys me; why need words, beyond the first word, be capitalised in a title? It strikes me as unnecessary, harsh and pompous. Some examples:

From a local real estate flyer:

Time for Your First Home!

From the Kawerau Library (my place of work!) website:

New Titles at the Library.

From a Google search about capitalisation rules:

Capitalization Rules – A Quick Guide

Capitalize My Title

8 Capitalization Rules for English Grammar

And I am not forgetting the APA referencing guidelines, guidelines I need to adhere to when writing academic papers or  when editing journal articles for Systeemtheoretisch Bulletin. In Dutch however, even in APA style, only the first word of the title of a book, article or other source is capitalised. I’m quite happy about that.

When The Capitals Have Arrived my frustration gauge shoots up ever so slightly. Quite the motivator for NOT using capital letters in the titles of my blogs.

What is your grumble about language rules?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s