Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Mom, Dad, and the Government

If I write your name in all capital letters do I love you more? If I start a word with a capital letter does it make it more important? Does it show my adoration more explicitly? These seem to be questions people inexplicably have begun to ask themselves to determine when certain words need a capital or small case letter.

Mother, father, mom, dad, and government seem to be words that drive normal, grammatically correct people over the edge. The emotion around these words seems to mix people up. They start throwing capital letters around as if they are darts with suction cups on the end- but can I warn you- all darts can put an eye out. Did your mother teach you nothing?

Some people (including my child’s English teacher- unfortunately) have attempted to impose a false structure with bizarre rules like -all of them are always capitalized. (What? Have you gone mad?) I think part of that is misappropriated love. Yes, I love my mother. Yes, I love my father. Yes, I love my government. BUT capitalizing does not equal love. You CAN love in small case letters. You can be important in small case letters. Look- death. Small case. Important. Okay?

Our local newspaper, for example, has developed a love affair with the government to such an extent that they can’t bear to see it in lower case letters.

Let’s look at some examples:

The Government of Botswana issued a press statement. (Correct)

The tender was late because of typical Government bureaucracy. (Incorrect)

The Government’s spokesperson, Rre Madibela, said the Government had no comment. (Correct- in this case it is referring to the Government of Botswana)

They said that all Government workers will need to abide by the new dress code. (Incorrect)

It’s not difficult. It has nothing to do with love or importance. If it is a proper noun, the name of a government, for example - you capitalize it, if not- you don’t. The same goes for your parents, if the word is their name, you capitalize it, if it is not a name you don’t.

Here are examples:

Dineo’s Mother always sweeps the yard first thing in the morning. (Incorrect)

If anyone could liven up this party I knew Mom could. (Correct)

If Father wants to talk about it, I’m more than happy to come over. (Correct)

His Father likes cooking sorghum porridge for breakfast. (Incorrect)

So, feel the love- but let’s do it grammatically, shall we?

Lauri Kubuitsile is a full time writer living in Botswana. She blogs at Thoughts from Botswana.

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  1. It is such a simple rule, but one that many people seem to forget!

  2. Madonna (the one in paintings), should it be in capital letter?

    Steamy Darcy

  3. Enid, yes, because it's at the start of a sentence. (ducks...)

  4. My first editor had a field day with my manuscript because of incorrect capitalization. I think I have it now, but who knows?
    Karen Walker

  5. Mom and dad give us trouble, I think, because we tend to use them as names. It helps sometimes to equate them with daughter and son. You can easily realize that you wouldn't write, "I wouldn't give that to her Daughter." But if in the book, the character actually called her daughter, Daughter, then she might say, "I gave that to Daughter."

  6. When I was teaching English 1A, capitalizing nouns seemed to be rampant, especially with ESL students. I'm wondering if other languages use more capitals than English??

    The rule of "my" was one suggestion with moms and dads.

    If "my" or "your" (are these called possessive pronouns or did I just make that up) come before DON'T cap, but if you use MOM as a name, then it's a name and should be capped.

  7. Oh God. So much to remember! Let's all just type in lowercase.

  8. I don't think it has helped that the rule has changed over time. Just look at older English texts and you'll see that this is not a new phenomena.

  9. Great post. thanks for sharing :)

  10. Sorry I've failed to comment on my own post- I was away to the Cape Town Book Fair.

    Gay, great idea with my and your. Capitalising has turned into the Wild West here in Botswana- whoever has the biggest gun gets the caps. If the story is about dogs for example, since it is the main topic, everywhere there is a dog it is capitalised. It drives me insane!

  11. If we're going to change the rules and use uc/lc letters to express emotion, I want some extra small letters to make negative emotions clearly understood.

    Oh, we're not changing the rules?

    Darn, I had me list of lc individuals ready to go.


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