Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Trend in Titles

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng
Back for another visit, dearies? Splendid. Things have been far too exciting around here lately; a bit of coffee and chat will be just the thing.

We've touched on titles before, if I recall. The niceties of Your Majesty and all that, yes? In a same-but-different vein, let’s consider titles again. I’m thinking of blogs and books and such. Yes, those titles.

There are two main types of treatment for titles of works. The most straightforward is sentence-style capitalization. In addition to the first word of the title (and subtitle, should you have one), you need only worry about capitalizing any proper names. High heels: A look at torture devices through the ages. Simple, but a bit boring, don’t you think?

I’m inclined to believe that a title should grab the reader’s interest right off, and headline-style capitalization will help in that regard. While the CMOS allows for a certain amount of aesthetically-inspired deviation from the rules, there are a few principles to bear in mind.

In titles and subtitles, the first and last words and all other “major” words (pronouns, verbs, et cetera) should be capitalized. The articles a, the, and an, along with conjunctions but, and, or, for, and nor, may remain in lower case.

As you might expect, there’s an exception, and it’s our friend the preposition. When used as an adverb or an adjective, a preposition may be capitalized. Look Up: The Rise of Hemlines. In all other instances, you may leave the preposition in lower case. I Left My Hanger in San Francisco.

Good heavens. I think that’s enough for today, don’t you? If there are questions, be sure to let me know, and we can address the title situation in further depth next time. At the moment, there’s a plate of tiramisu calling my name. Until next time, keep your pencils sharp, and remember: a well-turned phrase is always in style!

Photo courtesy of Darrick Bartholomew
Now that spring is at hand, the Style Maven will spend her days begging and pleading with the three recalcitrant tomato plants that have reluctantly agreed to reside in her garden.


  1. Not to question the Style Maven, as who am I to even hint at anything remiss. But kind Madam, or should that just be madam? But I digress. My question dear lady is what about all those newspaper headlines that have only the first word capitalized? That is driving me quite batty.

  2. Good stuff, Ms. Maven. While we're on the subject of titles I'd like nominate one for the ages: Diary of Narcissistic Bloodsucker. Right up there with Snakes on a Plane, don't you think?

  3. High heels: A look at torture devices through the ages. So right! Hahahaha.

    1. Now if this were a book title, it would be capitalized as per your second example, right? I see book titles in lower case on Amazon and it always looks so wrong.

  4. This is one of those rules I have to look up every time I edit. It's a slipperly little codger.

  5. Although the grammar issues you point out are important, the most important part of the title is whether it captures the theme of the book. Indeed, you mention the importance of grabbing the reader, but even more so is whether it reflects what the book is about.

    The worst title I ever read for a really good book was Kate Atkinson's Behind the Scene's at the Museum. I read (and enjoyed) the entire book but could never figure out how the title fit. There was no museum nor any behind the scenes. Perhaps I'm missing something. Can anyone out there help me out? Really it shouldn't be this hard!

  6. I've been thinking about this lately because I've seen so many titles that are similar, all with Murder or Death in the title. Murder is ____, ____ is Murder. Tons of them. Not only can't I remember the titles because of it, I can't remember the author. J.D. Robb has a Death series, and that's fine, but can't people come up with more original titles? There have to be other ways to let a reader know the book is a mystery. Polly, in a cranky mood.

  7. I agree with Joan. Titles must in some way relate to the story, and they must grab the reader's attention before a sale can be made. No matter which capitalization style the writer chooses, it's what appeals to the reader that really counts.

  8. As an editor, the error I run into most often in headline-style titles is a lowercase "is." Though small, "is" is a verb ("to be") and not a preposition, so it, along with "am" and "are," needs to be capitalized in titles!

    I've seen this error in numerous national campaigns, which irks me. :/

    Anyway, nice post. :)


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