Eighteenth-Century Capitalization: A Modern Crutch
We are a few [hundred] years removed from the eighteenth century, but some writers won’t let go of one convention from that era: capitalizing Nouns and Prominent Elements. What eighteenth-century writers of English called “Substantives,” today’s writers may call “All the Important Words that I want Readers to Notice.” Advertisers, marketers, and makers of signs (including the one pictured*) seem most apt to abuse capitalization in this way, but academic writers lean on the capitalization crutch, too.
In modern English, we don’t use capitalization for emphasis. To make their meaning and emphasis clear, capitalization-prone writers should consider the following instead:
- vocabulary (e.g., choose specific vocabulary, avoid buzzwords, use words that evoke a feeling or create an image)
- sentence structure (e.g., consider using a bulleted list to emphasize important elements, cast related ideas in parallel sentence structures)
- rhythm (e.g., vary sentence and word length, read the writing aloud to check the cadence and discover areas ripe for emphasis or likely to encourage unintended emphasis)
- typography (e.g., sparingly use bold, italics, etc.)
Seemingly random capitalization clutters the writing and fractures the message. Continue to coach and encourage your authors, fellow editors. Their writing is good enough, strong enough, and clear enough (even if it takes considerable editing to get there). They can let go of the Capitalization Crutch.
* Not to give it away, but today's sign also illustrates the everyday error we’ll be discussing in our next "error of the week" post.