Category Archives: Capitalization

The blahs of winter (or is it Winter?) …

It is only January 14, and the Scribe is already sick of winter. Or is it Winter? And he longs for the vernal equinox. Or is it the Vernal Equinox?

Here’s the rule: the four seasons are not capitalized (“fall is my favorite time of year”). Similarly, references to the solstice and equinox are lowercased (“the Druids celebrated the summer solstice”; “in Oregon, arrival of the vernal equinox does not mean winter is over”).

That is all for now …

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Summertime (and the livin’ is easy)!

Last week’s Pacific Northwest heat-wave (it reached 90 degrees four times!!) almost constituted a state of emergency (admittedly, it was a wee bit hotter in the Southwest and central California—hitting triple digits every day).  And heat makes people do funny things.  As detective Oscar Grace explained in the movie Body Heat (written by Lawrence Kasdan):

We’ve got more of everything bad since the wave started.  It’s the crisis atmosphere.  People dress different, feel different, sweat more.  They wake up cranky and they never recover.  Pretty soon people think the normal rules don’t apply.  They start breaking them; figure no one will care cause it’s emergency time.

One way to deal with the heat is to find a body of water, such as the Columbia River, Oneata Gorge, or the Pacific Ocean, and pass the day sipping cool beverages and listening to music.  And there are plenty of great summer songs.  For example, those inclined toward the classics might choose George and Ira Gershwin’s “Summertime”:

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy/Fish are jumpin’, and the cotton is high/Your daddy’s rich, and your mamma’s good lookin’/So hush little baby, don’t you cry.

Or how about the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City”:

 Hot town, summer in the city/Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty/Been down, isn’t it a pity/Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city/All around, people looking half dead/Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head.

Of course, you could stay cool by finding a dark basement and studying the rules of capitalization.  Here are the rules that apply to what you just read:

  • Do capitalize Geographic regions (e.g., the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest).
  • Do capitalize rivers, oceans, mountains, islands, etc. (e.g., Pacific Ocean, Columbia River, Oneata Gorge).
  • Do capitalize songs and movies (e.g., Body Heat, Summertime).
  • Don’t capitalize seasons (e.g., summer).
  • Don’t capitalize compass points and terms derived from them (e.g., central California).
  • And generally, don’t capitalize job titles (e.g., detective Oscar Grace).

That is all for now …

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Squib: capitalization of directions

Scribe:  Please advise on capitalization of N,S,W,E.  For example, Stephen lives on the Northeast corner of the floor.  Stephen lives on the East wall.  I drove East on I84.  Etc.  Help! 

Sincerely, A Fan

Courtesy of Flickr member:  Steve Snodgrass

Courtesy of Flickr member: Steve Snodgrass

Dear Fan,

That is an interesting subtopic.  North, south, east, and west are cardinal directions.

When talking about a general direction, the word is not capitalized, e.g.: the north side of the house, the northeast corner of the floor, the east wall, cold north wind, go east for three miles.  This is because in those instances, the direction is used as a common noun—not a proper noun. 

But when a direction is used as a proper noun, it is capitalized, e.g.:  The Northwest, West Virginia, the South.

The Scribe

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Stop excessive capitalization

Today we discuss capitalization.  In general, the Scribe prefers that you not use unnecessary capitalization.  Here’s a paragraph typical of what the Scribe sees daily:

We are pleased to Report that at yesterday’s Hearing, the Judge granted our Motion against Plaintiff’s Complaint and Dismissed all of her Claims.  Accordingly, there will be no Trial.  Our Statement is in the Mail.  Please Pay soon!

*Sigh*

Granted, some words require capitalization.  Here are some rules:

Capitalize proper names, e.g.,

  • Names of people (Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax);
  • Geographical names (Boston, Vermont, Crater Lake, France);
  • Institutions (University of Oregon, Washington Court of Appeals; United States Supreme Court);
  • Brand names (Nike, Motorola, Ford);
  • Holidays (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day);
  • Awesome baseball teams (Dodgers, Red Sox);
  • Evil baseball teams (The Yankees).

Capitalize complete official titles of an officer or agency of the state (but don’t capitalize abbreviated titles).  Capitalize months and days of the week (but not seasons of the year), e.g.,

  • Stephen filed the motion on Friday, April 9, 2010.
  • Lee invaded Pennsylvania in the summer of 1863.
  • This case began in July 2010.

Capitalize the full title of a constitution, constitutional amendment, or clause of a constitution, e.g.,

  • Article I, section 9, of the Oregon Constitution (but “state constitution”)
  • First Amendment to the United States Constitution (but “federal constitution”)
  • Commerce Clause

(NOTE:  In the phrase “Oregon and United States constitutions,” don’t capitalize “constitutions,” because neither document’s full title is being used.)

Do not capitalize generic governmental terms, such as “federal” or “state,” as in “the state,” “state constitution,” and “federal constitution.”  But do capitalize those words when part of a full proper name, e.g.,

  • Federal Reserve Bank
  • State of Oregon

Also, don’t capitalize generic statutory names, such as “statute of frauds” and “statute of limitations,” or the words “chapter” or “section” (when referring to a specific chapter or section within a sentence), e.g.,

  • ORS chapter 10
  • Article I, section 9

In order to simplify things, here’s a general rule that will usually work: capitalization is not proper unless you’re referring to something specific—whether it’s a document, court, person, place, or whatever.  Thus,

  • The case is filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court.
  • The dispute is tied up in court.
  • Go tell it to the judge.
  • The case will be heard by Judge Litzenberger.
  • The trial is occurring at the courthouse.
  • The oral argument will take place on the second floor of the Pioneer Courthouse.

That is all for now …

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