Capital ideas, capital offenses: When to uppercase

All letters, big and small, modify your message.

All letters, big and small, modify your message

A word’s meaning can change with capitalization. 

“See those three domiciles over there? Well, I live in the white house.” That’s quite different from, “I live in the White House.” Then there’s the whole issue of “capital” versus “Capitol,” but that’s a different topic, one for another day.

Speaking of politics, it’s common to hear commentators say, for clarity, “capital D Democratic initiatives” or “small d democratic ideals.” The distinction is important enough to be enunciated.

(In German, incidentally, all nouns and certain pronouns get uppercased; now there’s a gratuitous “Das Kapital” reference just waiting to be made. And so I made one.)

Speaking of gratuitous things, problems can arise when people uppercase some words simply for emphasis or to augment their importance. This happens frequently in business writing, notably in PR missives and other promotional materials. Hyperbole is no stranger in that realm. 

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