Capital Letters Do NOT Make Something Important!

A-n-n-d here’s another in my large zoo of pet peeves: the habit of capitalizing every third word to emphasize how neat, wowzery, and whiz-bangerish it is. Academics are very good at this. They are Professors who teach Cultural Studies courses. They have  “their” Doctorate in Women’s History and Subversive Practices. After they were promoted to Associate Professor they became a Dean.

No. None of these capital letters can make you, your job title, your educational status, your subject matter, or your department any more important than they were before you came along with your word processor.

Lissen up, folks:

Things that are not capitalized

Your college major, unless it’s a word that would be capitalized in any other context:

I’m a history major.
I’m an English major
I’m a business management major.
I’m a Spanish major.

A job title, unless used as though it were part of the person’s name:

No caps:
Georgina Mountebank is a professor of cultural studies.

Yes caps:
We met with Professor Georgina Mountebank yesterday.

No caps:
Oliver Boxankle is chief of the city’s fire department.

Yes caps:
We saw Chief Oliver Boxankle speaking at the Chamber of Commerce.

President, Queen, King are capitalized for US presidents and UK kings and queens

Dwight D. Eisenhower was President when that happened.
We met President Eisenhower after he came back from Spain.

Elizabeth Windsor was Queen at the time England entered World War II.
We were thrilled to meet the Queen of England in person.

Mr. Bodley is president of Mountebank Widgets, Inc.

The formal name of an academic department is capitalized, but the name of the discipline is not, unless it’s a word that would be capitalized in normal usage.

No cap:
The mailroom delivered a set of books on Chinese history.
Letitia is a history major.

Yes caps:
The Department of History offers a graduate certificate in scholarly editing.
Yes caps/No caps:
She specializes in European history.

No caps:
Georgina Mountebank is a professor of history.
Yes caps:
Professor Mountebank completed a Ph.D. in the Public History Program at Yale University.

No caps:
I’m a business management major.
Yes caps:
She is a graduate assistant in the Department of Business Management.

See the difference? In the “no caps” department, the word or phrase in question is generic. In the “yes caps” department, the word or phrase is specific, a proper noun, or a proper adjective.

This would not be difficult if your grade school, high school, or college had bothered to teach its students basic grammar and style. If yours did not, I suggest you get together with other alumni, hire a lawyer, and file a fat class action suit.

Andrew Jackson appears on the $20 bill. The man seems to have had a premonition about the state of American higher education.

2 thoughts on “Capital Letters Do NOT Make Something Important!

  1. Diane Bishop

    Fun read. My husband is a university teacher and his special pet peeve is when students refer to text books as novels. I’ll be showing him your Slave Labor book!

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