Monday, November 22, 2010

On Case

Everyone knows how to capitalize a sentence. You put the upper-case letters at the beginning of the sentence, and the lower-case letters after that. You capitalize first letters in proper nouns and acronyms, and if you're writing in a text-based conversation, you capitalize when you want to yell! Simple. (But should you really capitalize a sentence fragment? Hmmm....) However, the rules for capitalizing proper nouns are no longer as hard and fast as (I imagine, since I haven't done any research on this) they once were.
In recent years, I've noticed some unique capitalization schemes for company names. In terms of corporate identity, the way a business' name is capitalized says something about its values and intended image. While this is great for setting businesses apart and giving them that unique touch, it makes uptight rule-followers such as me a little uncomfortable.

So bear with me while I drag you into my internal debate about the rules of capitalization. After all, when I'm lying awake at night thinking about this matter, I want to make sure that I'm not alone.

First off, there's the issue of all-lower-case typesetting. You see this in electronic messages a lot, because, frankly, when typing fast, and especially when typing on a phone, making capital letters is a big hassle. I've seen it in poetry, because poetry is art, and in art, anything goes! I've seen it in graphic design, and I like it, because I think it helps balance out text which, when capitalized, would look a little heavy on the left. But is it really all right in a business name? Let's take a specific corporation as a case study (get it!?).

innocent drinks, a natural beverage company in the UK, has taken the lower case to a whole new level (get it!?). Not only is their name uncapitalized, but so is every heading on their website! Using all lower case makes them seem super cute and...well, innocent. I daresay that's the exact kind of image they were going for. But it also makes communicating about them quite difficult. For example, when I write, "innocent drinks," am I referring to innocent drinks, the company, or am I referring to guileless beverages in general? Oh, the confusion! And just look at the beginning of this paragraph! In order to conform to their strange capitalization preferences, I had to start a sentence without a capital letter! Horrors! Before I have a nervous breakdown, I'd better move on to another topic.

Such as the good old ISP, America Online. Oh, wait. They're not an ISP any more. In fact, they're not even America Online any more. In 2006, America Online officially changed its name to AOL—which is in itself a bold move that states, "We're so awesome, we don't even need words to support our acronym. Our acronym is big enough to stand on its own." A few years later (perhaps even this year?) they changed their logo in the craziest way, uncapitalizing the O and L and adding a period at the end. In my book, that means their name should now be pronounced "owl," but they still refer to themselves in text as AOL. So what are they? Owl(period) or AOL? Does capitalization affect meaning, or am I just trying too hard to create order out of chaos?


Tariq said...

How about how Mountain Dew is now "Mtn Dew," or is it "MTN DEW," or "Mtn. Dew?"

With the stylized text, it's hard to know how to transcribe that into plain, unassuming Times New Roman without losing meaning. Then the question becomes, "What is the meaning?"

Personally, I've seen the destruction of English more as symptom of the end times than a cause for worry in and of itself :P

Geoff said...

I see blogger is also messing up the spacing between YOUR paragraphs too.

Boo new blog editor!

Valerie said...

And now that you've commented on it, I can NEVER fix it, because then people wouldn't know what you were talking about!