Don’t Get Cappy Happy

Writers seem to get “cappy” happy (yes, I just made up that term). I often see the most random terms and phrases capitalized, but generally the rule is that if it’s not a specific proper name of something, it doesn’t need to have the first letter capitalized. Here are just a few types of words that often erroneously get capitalized. All the terms and phrases listed below should be lowercased as shown.

Student status:

  •  freshman or first-year student
  • sophomore
  • junior
  • senior

Academic degrees:

  • a master’s degree
  • a doctorate; a fellowship
  • master of business administration (MBA)

Ethnic groups (common designations) unless a particular publisher or author prefers otherwise:

  •  black people; blacks; people of color
  • white people; whites

Terms denoting socioeconomic classes:

  •  the middle class; a middle-class neighborhood
  • the upper-middle class; an upper-middle-class family
  • blue-collar workers
  • the aristocracy
  • the proletariat
  • homeless people

Terms denoting generations:

  • the me generation
  • baby boomer(s)
  • generation X; generation Y; generation Z
  • the MTV generation

Note that when referring to an academic department, you do use initial caps, but do not capitalize the: I went to the Department of Natural History yesterday to speak to the dean.

9 Responses to “Don’t Get Cappy Happy”

  1. Vicki M. Taylor March 15, 2013 at 6:27 am #

    loved your title “Cappy Happy”.. I agree, writers tend to cap when they shouldn’t and don’t cap when they should. The same with sprinkling commas throughout their text with no rhyme or reason. Gotta reign them in once in a while. Have a blessed day!

    • Barbara Forte Abate March 15, 2013 at 7:21 am #

      Guilty! I so needed this. Not only have I been Cappy Happy, but am assuredly a victim of others being Cappy Happy. The result being that the rules of capping — or not– have gotten rather jumbled together in my head. Much appreciation for sorting it out 😀

  2. Curtis March 15, 2013 at 8:14 am #

    My biggest problem with capitalization is knowing how to apply it geographically. Of course, if you’re just describing direction, you don’t capitalize, but sometimes it’s hard to know if a person is from the southwest or the Southwest. Is it safe to assume that you only need to capitalize such a designation if it’s a political boundary?

    • cslakin March 15, 2013 at 8:25 am #

      I’ll be doing some posts on that as well, but yes, it can be a little confusing since some regions, according to CMOS, get capped and others don’t. For example, the new 16th edition now says Northern California instead of northern California, although Southern California (with the capital S) has been around for a while. Since I live in Northern California, I’m wondering what suddenly gave it the status? You do use initial caps for the West, The South, the Midwest, the East, since those are considered proper names of regions. When you get more into general directions, like vising the northeast, you don’t. The best thing to do is look at CMOS 8.46, which gives a detailed list. And if you don’t have the online subscription, you can get a free 30-day trial and spend some days taking a lot of notes on the things you often get confused about. But the yearly subscription is worth it!

  3. Deborah Jay March 15, 2013 at 9:48 am #

    Thanks for this, good timing as I’m busy ‘de-capping’ an old manuscript just now – amazing how much one feels the need to use capitals for emphasis at an earlier stage in one’s writing career 🙁
    Just one I’m still struggling with – in speech, is it ‘Your Majesty’, ‘your Majesty’, or ‘your majesty’ when addressing a queen?
    (BTW, Vikki above, a queen reigns, but you rein someone in like you do a horse).

    • cslakin March 15, 2013 at 10:26 am #

      Yes, Your Majesty and the like have initial caps.

      • Deborah Jay March 15, 2013 at 11:58 am #

        Thank you so much 🙂

  4. Jo Murphey March 16, 2013 at 2:32 am #

    Hmm, I’ve been cappy happy and have more degrees than anyone has a right to. I tend to like learning and teaching.

    I’m a person of color but not black or white.

    Been both the blue collar worker and white. Middle class and upper middle class, and sometimes just short of filthy rich. I’m a baby boomer.

    But mostly I’m just me. A unique individual that defies and am all inclusive in all categories.

    And yep, they all should be lower case.

  5. Theresa Milstein May 29, 2013 at 10:38 am #

    Great title. Good to know!

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