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Bill Bennett


Narcissistic capitals

Companies and insecure people often insist their job titles should be spelt with upper case letters. We are talking here of narcissistic capitals. This is incorrect grammar — capitals are used at the start of proper nouns. Bus driver is not a proper noun. Nor is marketing director or chief executive officer. For that matter neither is president. A job title can be a proper noun in some cases, that’s another issue. No matter. People who insist writers spell job titles in capital letters think it makes the person look more important. Or because they think some jobs are more important than others and deserve capitals for that reason. As if ‘head of marketing’ isn’t already impressive enough. Some people insist on using capitals even when they understand it is bad grammar. As my friend Chris Bell points out they worry that using titles correctly may show the world they are unduly modest. So they deliberately show the world they are semi-illiterate instead. Give me literate any day.



4 thoughts on “Narcissistic capitals

  1. I remember seeing letters to the editor from a publication of which we were both in the employ. There was I reckon a direct relationship to extent of nuttiness of the writer to the usage of capitals, bolding, underlining, italics and red ink. YOURS TRULY BIGCAKE

  2. Hi Bill – long time…

    Narcissistic capitals are an equal nightmare for me in book editing and publishing, which is mostly what I do these days. It’s a particular problem when an author comes from a generation when published writing – including in newspapers – was still littered with caps. I’m not sure how long the proper noun rule has actually been a rule. Certainly it hasn’t always been followed.

    I’m currently publishing a World War II medical history book written by an 84 year old former surgeon and weeding the caps out of his copy has been a fraught process. There have been lots of the usual suspects, but it’s been a class thing as well. He wrote very much from the officer point of view and he always put caps on officer titles and never on other ranks titles.

    John MacGibbon

  3. John

    An interesting point. To my knowledge newspapers haven’t used capitals for job titles since I’ve been working as a journalist – that’s, ahem, the late 1970s.

    Mind you, it wasn’t until I began working on the Dominion in Wellington in the late 1980s that I stopped using a Mr, Mrs or Miss (even Ms) in front of a person’s surname.

    On the other hand, when I worked in a government PR department in the UK, my immediate boss insisted we used capitals when mentioning senior members of staff.

  4. I was discussing this with a former NZ Herald journo yesterday and she remembered a big change in treatment of caps starting around the late 1970s.

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