Why I Capitalize Every Word In Every Title

I CAPITALIZE EVERY WORD in every title that I write in the text sec­tions of my books and es­says. That in­cludes cap­i­tal­izing the def­i­nite and in­def­i­nite ar­ti­cles and those perky prepo­si­tions! I al­ways have and no doubt I al­ways will. I do this for sev­eral rea­sons, which I share here in a ges­ture of bon­homie. But be­ware: this ap­proach is at odds with most style guides. 1

First please note that I use The Lord Of The Rings as ex­am­ples be­cause I love the books, and that there are three things about the para­graph above you need to know:

 

You have to choose a style that is com­pre­hen­sible. It doesn’t do any good to have a style that people struggle to follow. On the other hand, you can take sim­pli­fi­ca­tion too far.

 

•  To “cap­i­talize every word” means to cap­i­talize the first letter in every word. It does not mean to CAPITALIZE EVERY LETTER in the title!

•  I am re­fer­ring to how I write ti­tles of books, ar­ti­cles, movies, poems, songs, etc., in the body of an ar­ticle. I am not re­fer­ring to the ti­tles that I use for the ar­ti­cles that I write and pub­lish on my web­sites. I think of them as ad­ver­tising and treat them as such ty­po­graph­i­cally. (Which is funny be­cause I think of the text that I write as es­says, not blogs.)

•  I can get away with this de­vi­a­tion from such style guides as the Chicago Manual of Style and the As­so­ci­ated Press Style­book on my web­sites be­cause I am au­thor, ed­itor, and pub­lisher. If I sub­mitted any­thing to a “real” publisher—or even to an­other web­site—my styl­istic quirks would be al­tered to fit their styl­istic choices.

 

LOTR_54_Unwin1

The first edi­tion of The Fel­low­ship Of The Ring (The Fel­low­ship Of The Ring) was from George Allen & Unwin (London, 1954). The il­lus­tra­tion was by the au­thor, but the pub­lisher set the type in up­per­case type. There is no men­tion that this book is part of a set of books known as The Lord Of The Rings. 3

The title is the most important part

So here is the gist of my ar­gu­ment for cap­i­tal­izing every word of a title in the text of an ar­ticle or essay: I refuse to see any word in a title as being unim­por­tant or sec­ondary to any other word in that title! 2

Ide­ally, au­thors and ed­i­tors should take the time to ra­ti­o­ci­nate upon and then craft a proper title for any writing, whether it’s a novel or merely a blog entry.

In al­most every in­stance, the title of any written piece is the first thing the reader sees and reads.

Hence, the title is the most im­por­tant part of the written piece in at­tracting readers and/or buyers!

But first, let’s let the ex­perts speak.

Strunk and White on capitalizing titles

I turned first to William Strunk Jr and E B White’s El­e­ments Of Style. Oddly, Strunk and White have very little to say on cap­i­tal­izing much of any­thing in EOS. They don’t even ad­dress the issue in their brief com­ment on ti­tles:

“For the ti­tles of lit­erary works, schol­arly usage prefers italics with cap­i­tal­ized ini­tials. The usage of ed­i­tors and pub­lishers varies, some using italics with cap­i­tal­ized ini­tials, others using Roman with cap­i­tal­ized ini­tials and with or without quo­ta­tion marks.”

Strunk and White do not cap­i­talize ar­ti­cles or prepo­si­tions on the ex­am­ples they in­clude.

 

LOTR_64_Ace1

The first mass-market pa­per­back edi­tion of The Fel­low­ship Of The Ring from Ace Books (1964) fea­tured upper and low­er­case type on the title. Again there is no men­tion that this book is part of a set of books known as The Lord Of The RingsThe Ace edi­tions were not au­tho­rized and Tolkien or his pub­lishers had them pulled from cir­cu­la­tion. 4

Grammar Girl on capitalizing titles

I could spend the day re­searching var­ious sites on the In­ternet (no­tably the afore­men­tioned Chicago and AP man­uals) and their varying rec­om­men­da­tions, but, in­stead, I am simply lifting the de­scrip­tions from Grammar Girl’s site (Cap­i­tal­izing Ti­tles). She lists four ways to deal with ti­tles:

1. “Cap­i­talize the first word of the title, the last word of the title, and all nouns, pro­nouns, verbs, ad­verbs, ad­jec­tives, sub­or­di­nating con­junc­tions, and a few con­junc­tions. Prepo­si­tions are only cap­i­tal­ized if they are used ad­jec­ti­vally or ad­ver­bially.” (Chicago Manual Of Style)

2. “Cap­i­talize the first word of the title, the last word of the title, and all prin­cipal words (nouns, verbs and so on), and all words longer than three let­ters.” (As­so­ci­ated Press Style­book)

3. “Only cap­i­talize the first letter of the first word of the title and words that would be cap­i­tal­ized in a sen­tence, such as someone’s name.” (Plain old sen­tence style)

4. “Cap­i­talize the first letter of every word.”

Grammar Girl makes the same ar­gu­ment for con­sis­tency that I do below:

“I be­lieve the most im­por­tant thing about title cap­i­tal­iza­tion is to be con­sis­tent throughout your doc­u­ment and across your pub­li­ca­tions or web­site … I be­lieve you have to choose a style that is com­pre­hen­sible to your writers. It doesn’t do any good to have a style that people struggle to follow.”

If you con­tinue reading, you will find that I am in com­plete ac­cord with Grammar Girl on the issue of con­sis­tency and com­pre­hen­si­bility.

“On the other hand, I do be­lieve you can take sim­pli­fi­ca­tion too far. For ex­ample, I’ve seen people use what I con­sider overly sim­pli­fied styles such as cap­i­tal­izing every letter of every word or keeping every­thing low­er­case, even words that would nor­mally be cap­i­tal­ized such as names. The Yahoo! Style Guide specif­i­cally rec­om­mends against these two styles.”

If you con­tinue reading, you will find that I am at odds with Grammar Girl and Yahoo! on sev­eral is­sues here. 

 

LOTR_66_Unwin1

In 1966, Allen & Unwin is­sued this second hard­cover edi­tion con­tem­po­ra­ne­ously with the Bal­lan­tine pa­per­back edi­tion (below). This time the pub­lisher opted for upper and low­er­case type for the title. Oddly, there is no men­tion that this book is part of a set of books known as The Lord Of The Rings. 5

Why I’m an “I” instead of an “i”

Any title that I chose for this essay would seem ironic be­cause I do not cap­i­talize the ti­tles to my ar­ti­cles on my sites! My ti­tles are low­er­case as part of the style of my sites—to set the title off from the text of the ar­ticle.

In de­signing my sites, I had done my home­work and had a grasp of fun­da­mental ty­pog­raphy and re­lated is­sues. I se­lected the two most flex­ible and adapt­able type­faces (fonts in web­s­peak) on com­puters and browsers: the ser­ifed Georgia for my text and the san serif Arial as the op­po­site look for my ti­tles.

You are reading Georgia at this mo­ment.

I do make a few ex­cep­tions in the ti­tles, such as the “I” above. I see the sub­jec­tive first person sin­gular in low­er­case as both pre­ten­tious as all get-out (and, yes, I think that of Mr Cum­mings, too) and, more im­por­tantly, dif­fi­cult for the eye-brain to pick up im­me­di­ately. For ex­ample:

i cap­i­talize every word in every title

I cap­i­talize every word in every title

The “i” sen­tence looks wrong, as though a typo of some sort had oc­curred. I do not want my readers wasting time thinking that I made a typo in my ti­tles, hence the cap­ital “I” for self-referencing.

To set the “I” off fur­ther in this title—to make it stand out—I added “why” to the title, which also serves to give the piece a more essay-like quality. See the dif­fer­ence:

I cap­i­talize every word in every title

why I cap­i­talize every word in every title

The why-less title is a bold state­ment, which can put off some readers. They look at it and think, “He cap­i­tal­izes every word in every title. So what!??!” It’s also graph­i­cally un­ap­pealing as a hor­i­zontal structure—at least to me.

The second title with the why seems more question-like and more inviting. It en­cour­ages the reader to think, “Okay, why does he cap­i­talize every word in every title?” It is also more struc­turally ap­pealing to my eye with the “I” so promi­nent in the sen­tence.

Readers of my sites will no­tice that I have been some­what fickle about this rule in the past: that’s due to my ex­per­i­menting with the best way to make those sites look their very best and yet main­tain a high level of read­ability.

 

LOTR_66_Ball1

LOTR_73_Ball1

The pop­u­larity of The Lord Of The Rings ex­ploded with the pa­per­back edi­tions from Bal­lan­tine Books (1966). From this point on, most edi­tions noted that each book was part of a set known as The Lord Of The Rings. Most of the type on the cover—including both ti­tles and the au­thor’s name—was set in caps, which has been the norm since, in­cluding this later Bal­lan­tine edi­tion which was the book mil­lions of new readers first saw in the ’70s. 6

There is no confusion my way

By cap­ping each word in a title (which is a se­ries of words with a tacit con­nec­tion) I create an ob­vious link be­tween them. Using stan­dard styles, a title with cap­i­tal­ized words fol­lowed by “of the” or “and a” fol­lowed by more cap­i­tal­ized words can create con­fu­sion as the link be­tween them is not ap­parent. Un­less they are ital­i­cized, the reader may have to guess, “Is that a title or is there some other reason he’s cap­ping those words?”

As an ex­ample, let’s use one of the most fa­mous book ti­tles of the past fifty years: The Lord Of The Rings. Without any for­mat­ting, it ap­pears as ‘the lord of the rings.’ For­mat­ting those five words is the issue: 7

 I as­sume that every style manual in­sists on cap­i­tal­izing the first word, here as The.

 I also as­sume that every style manual in­sists on cap­ping the two nouns, Lord and Rings.

 I fur­ther as­sume that most style man­uals would say there is no need to cap­i­talize the prepo­si­tion (of) or the def­i­nite ar­ticle (the).

 I con­tinue to as­sume that most style man­uals would lead one to the fol­lowing: The Lord of the Rings.

Use this method and most pub­lishers, ed­i­tors, and readers will see nothing wrong with it.

But I do: I don’t see how the prepo­si­tion and the ar­ticle are sec­ondary to the nouns. Without them, the title is The Lord Rings, which ac­tu­ally makes no real sense in common Eng­lish usage—unless it is a ti­tled sur­name re­fer­ring to some British no­bility like the Lord John Win­ston Ono Rings (or Mr. Rings in America).

If we just add back the ar­ticle we have The Lord the Rings, which also makes no sense.

If we just add the prepo­si­tion back, we have a phrase that makes sense, The Lord of Rings! But Tolkien’s books are not about a lord of any rings or even all rings—Sauron is THE Lord of THE Rings of Power!

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them.
One Ring to bring them all and in the dark­ness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

And I al­ways ital­i­cize the title, so when I write it your eyes read The Lord Of The Rings.

But I want your brain to read The Lord Of The Rings!

 

Caps LOTR header900

PS: Oh, yeah, by making this styl­istic de­ci­sion I can never be in­cor­rect by not cap­i­tal­izing an im­por­tant sec­ondary word in a title, nor can I be wrong for cap­i­tal­izing one that should not have been cap­i­tal­ized! (Life can be a dream sh-boom sh-boom …)

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   One of the plea­sures of the In­ternet is in­stant ac­cess to any kind of in­for­ma­tion no matter how trivial. There is the added plea­sure of dis­cov­ering that I have been in­cor­rect about some­thing for a loooooong time and now I can cor­rect my­self! So it is that I found that I have been mis­using the term bon­homme: I thought that it was French for “ge­nial or good-natured” when it means a male person, a fellow, a good chap! The word I wanted was bon­homie (“bon-o’-mee”), which looks ab­surd given the con­tem­po­rary slang term homie. Ah well, c’est la vie!

2   When writing about music and records, I ital­i­cize the ti­tles of both songs and al­bums. To dif­fer­en­tiate one from the other, I also cap­i­talize every letter in the title of the al­bums. Hence the song God Only Knows can be found on the PET SOUNDS album. I do this to avoid ex­ces­sive amounts of quo­ta­tion marks in my writing.

3   Need­less to say, first print­ings of the orig­inal edi­tions of these books are very valu­able. Ap­par­ently there were sev­en­teen im­pres­sions by George Allen & Unwin of each title, but they were usu­ally lim­ited to a few thou­sand each time.

4   The Ace books sold well, but their main years of un­chal­lenged dis­tri­b­u­tion were 1964–65, a little early for the nascent Six­ties Con­science to have dis­cov­ered them. By the end of the decade they were al­ready sought after in used book stores at a time when few things were con­sid­ered col­lec­table un­less they were decades old.

5   Like most Amer­ican readers, I never saw these books until the In­ternet made re­search into such ar­cana readily avail­able to all of us—for which we praise Grom­mett’s Wholly Name!

6   The Bal­lan­tine edi­tions in­tro­duced fans to the highly styl­ized, very dra­matic, ever mem­o­rable art of Bar­bara Rem­ington. In 1967, I in­tro­duced my class­mates at Kingston High School to Tolkien via a book re­port on the trilogy read aloud in my sopho­more Eng­lish class. The only time I ever at­tempted to “se­ri­ously” read any­thing of length whilst trip­ping was with The Fel­low­ship Of The Ring. After an hour, I was still reading the same para­graph …

7   Ap­par­ently as­suming the world and the mar­ket­place was not ready for a mas­sive 1,200 page fan­tasy novel, The Lord Of The Rings was pub­lished as three smaller books, each with a sep­a­rate title: The Fel­low­ship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Re­turn of the King. Hey, don’t blame me for the low­er­case words—I just copied these from Wikipedia to keep the hy­per­links in­tact!

 

Subscribe
Notify of
Rate this article:
Please rate this article with your comment.
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments