For experimental purposes only, I wanted to test the frequency of capital letters adorning products. Accordingly, I’ve arrayed a dozen items in front of me to test the theory.
My belief is that most people overuse capital letters, LIKE THIS. And they like to play with exclamations marks as well!!!!!
But it’s hard to hear anything or anybody when everyone’s shouting.
Let me explain:
I chose 12 items: a can of Cheetos, a bottle of V-8, a book, a DVD cover, my laptop computer, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning Danish,” the Dex phone book, a crossword puzzle magazine, a globe, a jar of kosher dills, a box of kitchen matches and a political ad that arrived weeks late.
What do the randomly selected items have in common? Ten of the 12 use all capital letters that scream out at us. Are those who choose the lettering on these products first cousins of used-car salesmen who hawk their wares on late-night TV by shouting each word?
And if it weren’t for having been reminded of the universal rule that sentences start with a capital letter, I’d use even fewer caps.
But even when habit, training and instinct compel me to follow the rule of beginning sentences with capitals, I come across e-mail addresses entirely in lower case letters. And because e-mail addresses are “case sensitive,” it’s tough always to type the correct address.
I believe the rationale for many people’s hyper inflammation of the alphabet comes from the notion that a larger letter gives importance to communication and by extension, anything in all caps means it’s extremely important. Size matters.
Capital letters are ugly, predictable and similarly sized. Notice how much easier it is to make out Interstate signs that use big and small letters to identify cities. For example, the individual configurations of letters like “i” and ‘l” make it easier for motorists to discern “Bernalillo” than if it were BERNALILLO. And Las Vegas is much more readable than LAS VEGAS.
It’s the ascenders and descenders, the curlicues and loops, the whorls and twirls that give letters individuality and personality.
The only thing worse than having to read an e-mail address in all caps, for example, is deciphering words that mix the majuscule and the minuscules incorrectly.
For example, many hand-painted otherwise all-caps signs around town dot the “I,” regardless of whether it’s capital or small, and play loose with the letter “L,” like this: SiX lOVElY KiTTENS FOR SAlE.
But rather than turn this into a treatise on proper construction of the alphabet, let’s consider the tiniest letter in the alphabet, which also happens to be one of the most common.
In a recent article in the New York Times, columnist Caroline Winter wrote that the capital “I” for which “there’s no grammatical reason,” appears only in English.
And what’s the reason for all this I-strain? Egotism? Winter mentions that languages like Hebrew and Arabic have no capitalized letters at all, and in some regions, even the Japanese virtually drop pronouns altogether.
And why does English capitalize no other pronouns? In Spanish, we get along quite well with the unobtrusive “yo,” in lower case, for the first-person reference.
Winter adds that even the “supposedly snobbish French leave all pronouns in the unassuming lowercase.”
One belief about the existence of the capital “I” is that in the middle ages, when monks transcribed the classics, the first-person pronoun was “ic” and even “ich,” but when the first letter broke away, it simply couldn’t stand alone, uncapitalized, even if “a” somehow survived.
Could the capital “I” provide even more justification for calling this the “‘I’ Generation”? And does the overuse of the word reflect our egos? Media research took a tally of the use of the first-person pronoun in of post-primary election speeches delivered by Hillary Rodham Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama.
The idea was to determine whether particular language patterns demonstrate cases of political self-inflation. Clinton used “I” 64 times, compared with 60 for McCain and 30 for Obama. According to the Times columnist, Obama “was the only candidate whose combined use of ‘we’ and ‘you’ outnumbered the use of ‘I.’”
So what do these numbers prove? That the terrorists will win, or maybe not?
A Google search of the upper-case “I” yields speculation all the way from “because ‘I’ is/am important” to the fear a small “I” would get lost in medieval handwritten manuscripts.
As English became what it is today, it took many detours. And whether the capital “I” reflects self-esteem or any of myriad theories about orthography, it might be of interest to try this:
Switch the form of address when you write someone by capitalizing “We,” “You” and “They” and by using the lower case “i” when we refer to ourselves. It can be humbling; i’m feeling the humility already and i hope You are too.
• • •
Try this experiment:
Using a nickel, determine how many masculine and feminine names appear on both sides. It’s permissible to add the last letter of one word to the beginning letters of the following words, but you may not skip or switch letters.
The proper names need to be common spellings, nothing exotic. A clue: The name “Ted” appears on the back side, as part of “UniTED.” How many other names can you find?
Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.