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.
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.
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 Rings. The 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.
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.
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!
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 …)
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!