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A Capital Offense: give that shift key a rest

There was a time, in the days of yore if I'm not mistaken, when it was considered corporately correct to capitalize all nouns in a business document. So a memo sent from a foreman to an employee would look a little something like this (remember, there was no email then):

“Hark there Peasant, your Liege wants You to pick up all that Crap on the Floor in the Ye Ole Warehouse as soon as possible!” (acronyms hadn’t been invented yet.)

How unsightly. Not only is it clunky to look at, it places false emphasis on common nouns that have done absolutely nothing to deserve it. Luckily, we eventually became enlightened and started limiting capitalization to proper nouns, the first words of sentences and acronyms, once we got around to inventing them. Rules were established. The future seemed brighter.

But a trend seems to be developing in these supposedly progressive times that threatens to send us back to the Dark Ages.* People who didn’t pay attention in English class are going around willy-nilly, randomly hitting the shift key whenever they get to a word that strikes them as important. Marketers and PR flacks are especially susceptible to this tendency, as these examples I just made-up prove.

Political hacks will trumpet “a critical Bill to ensure prosperity in our Communities.” The local gym might stress the “importance of Nutrition, along with Exercise.” And street corner drug dealers will hand out flyers touting “the Purity of our Nose Candy.”

It’s all too much, unless of course the dealer has gone to the trouble of trademarking his cocaine under a brand name, in which case he’s in the clear, but likely facing heat from other jurisdictions. But I digress.

The lesson is this: capitalization is not left up to the whims of the copywriter. If you feel compelled to coronate a common noun with the upper case, attempt to quell that impulse or be prepared to defend your actions. Consult your Chicago Manual of Style if you require further assistance into this matter.

*“movements that are widely recognized in archaeology, anthropology, geology or other technical fields are capitalized.”

About this BLOG

I’ve been a professional business writer for over 20 years. It’s what I do best and I’ve learned some things along the way. I’ll share them with you here and you’ll do well. You may still want to hire me to do some writing when you’re busy doing the things that you do best. I’ll be happy to help out.

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