Capitalize this!

In her business writing blog, Lynn Gaertner-Johnston wrote a recent entry about capitalization errors:

A friend sent me an excerpt from a brief professional bio she had read online. The bio said the individual is a consultant for a china inspection service… It turns out that the consultant inspects sites and operations in China for clients who set up manufacturing there from abroad.

The crux of the confusion was the word “china,” which in its non-capitalized form refers to ceramics, so named because the style originated in capital-C China, the country.

Capitalization errors are common. The most common I run across is errors capitalizing someone’s title. For example, Barack Obama is the president of the United States, not the President of the United States. He is, however, President Barack Obama. When assigning someone a title, if the title precedes their name, it’s capitalized. If it follows it, it’s lowercase.

There are many others of course. A mom is a mom unless she’s your Mom. And God is God unless we’re taking a course in comparative religions, in which case there are gods, too. The word north is generally a direction, unless it’s a common or well-defined geographic region: The North battled the South in the Civil War. Seasons aren’t usually capitalized, but days of the week and holidays are: This fall, Halloween falls on a Tuesday. And while we learned in elementary school to disregard articles when alphabetizing, you still capitalize them in proper nouns: The Nature Conservancy, which comes after The National Audubon Society in a list of charities.

And sometimes, people who don’t know any better just get carried away by capitals. Amazing Low Prices, this week only! We are pleased to present you this Special Offer, available only to our most Loyal Customers!

But sometimes capitalization errors have their place. We’ll make an exception for A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh, who often gave his Most Important Words and Places capital letters, although he liked his vocabulary brief: “I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words bother me.”



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