Title Case in Running Text Does Not Equal Emphasis or Importance

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AaCap­i­tal­iz­ing words in an attempt to lend them empha­sis or impor­tance is near the top of this copyeditor’s (and prob­a­bly many oth­ers’) list of pet peeves. Peo­ple! A pri­mary use of ital­ics is to empha­size words. Under­lin­ing is another, albeit some­what anti­quated, way to do so. All-capping does the trick in infor­mal writ­ing, though you have to be care­ful: it can be taken as shouting–whether angry or excited, des­per­ate or freaked out. But Nowhere in mod­ern writ­ing of Eng­lish has mid-sentence cap­i­tal­iza­tion been taught as a way to show empha­sis. (See what I did there? Just demon­strat­ing the break­ing of The Rule.)

You won’t be sur­prised, then, that the fol­low­ing arti­cle title caught my atten­tion imme­di­ately: “The Dig­i­tal Epi­demic of Ran­dom Mid­sen­tence Cap­i­tal­iza­tion.”

I found the article’s expla­na­tions of the early use of mid-sentence cap­i­tal­iza­tion fas­ci­nat­ing, and its reminders of cer­tain writ­ers who employed it commonly–Emily Dick­in­son, for one–insightful. Also help­ful is the analy­sis of why we often find ini­tial cap­i­tal­iza­tion online in reg­u­lar sentences–that is, the use of title case in non-titles. In an infor­mal blog post or on social media, I can ignore this.

But what I find most annoy­ing is when writ­ers drop upper­case into for­mal writing–business pro­pos­als, Sun­day school cur­ricu­lum (and I’m not talk­ing about words for God), memoir–with the clear belief that it bestows a cer­tain impor­tance on the word: “local, state, and Fed­eral agen­cies”; “wor­ship at the Tem­ple”; “I was espe­cially close to my Sister.”

And though the gen­tle, pro­fes­sional copy­ed­i­tor part of me will qui­etly low­er­case the let­ter or mark it for cor­rec­tion, the snippy, non-professional part of me–because, face it, we all have that side too–really wants to say to the writer, “I don’t think that text style means what you think it means.”

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