Letters to My Editor: Capital Quandary

What does a working relationship between a writer and an editor look like? Author and HNE client, Jessie Clever and I have known each other for more than ten years. So in our case, it looks a little snarky.

Welcome to Letters to My Editor. She writes to me one week on her blog. I reply the next on mine. Mayhem just might ensue.

Click here to read Jessie’s most recent letter.

Letters-to-My-Editor_edited-1Dear Jessie,

Disclaimer: I’m not a linguistic historian. My answers are incredibly simplistic compared to the bizarre and tumultuous path language has taken over the millennia.

The short answer for why authors used to permit capitals to run amok is emphasis. (Italics are hard to indicate if you’re writing your manuscript longhand.) But, of course, there’s more to it than that.

The English language wasn’t always regulated or standardized. Spelling and capitalization could vary from one person to the next. Once the printing press came along, the person setting typeface had the final control of the text, and printers over the years based many of their decisions on aesthetics, resulting in several seemingly arbitrary rules of grammar. So, yeah, we might not capitalize everything anymore because at some point somebody thought it didn’t look pretty.

Capitals still indicate emphasis at times, but usually you’ll see them set in full small caps instead of just the first letter capitalized. Also, modern rules are sometimes dumped for aesthetics, because we still make decisions based on what we think is pretty.

As to titles, we generally use headline style (check out 8.157 in The Chicago Manual of Style). In short . . .


  • First and last words of title and subtitle
  • Major words (nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, some conjunctions)


  • Articles
  • Prepositions (unless they’re used adverbially/adjectively)
  • and, but, for, or, nor
  • to (whether a preposition or part of an infinitive)
  • as
  • Part of a proper name that would normally be lowercase (de or von)
  • Second part of a species name even if it’s the last word in a title or subtitle

Who knows? A couple hundred years from now authors could be rolling their eyes at the way we write today.



Be sure to subscribe to Jessie’s blog at Romancing a Blog to get her next letter!

One thought on “Letters to My Editor: Capital Quandary

  1. Pingback: Letters to My Editor: When to Ignore the Red Squiggle | Jessie Clever

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s