Over the years, I’ve seen a new kind of style develop in online writing. Especially in abbreviated writing like what you find in tweets, Facebook posts, and text messages, I am seeing more and more random capital letters. Sentences will contain randomly capitalized words right in the Middle of the sentence. For a long time, I puzzled over these words. What was the reason for capitalizing them? I considered the possibilities, but ultimately came up with three:
- In German, nouns are capitalized, so perhaps the authors were German speakers. I dismissed this since I knew many of the offending writers and knew that they spoke no German.
- Maybe this was a new way of emphasizing words that I was unaware of. I’d always used underscores, slashes, or asterisks around a word to emphasize it in plain text.
- The writer had no idea what they were doing. They were randomly capitalizing letters like a drunken e. e. cummings.
The problem is, for whatever reason, I’ve training my brain to read capitalized words with emphasis. This is due mainly to how we sometimes emphasize words by adding a capital letter to give it an almost proper noun quality. Big league baseball, for instance, is often referred to as the Show, with a capital S. In my mind I read this as Show rather than show, the former getting a subtle emphasis. You can therefore imagine that havoc this creates in my mind when reading something like:
Happy birthday To my Favorite uncle.
I feel like I did when I first tried reading iambic pentameter aloud.
Still, I was certain there was a pattern to this, something that I was missing. I did note, in my limited experience, that it tended to be people a generation older than me who take this license with the English language. Maybe it was simply a nervous tic at the keyboard?
I went to Messrs. Strunk & White for guidance. As it happens, they have nothing to say on the subject of capitalization. Fowler’s has two full pages on capitals, but they focus on what should be capitalized rather than what should not. This implies there is a lot more that shouldn’t be capitalized than should.
I see this behavior most frequently on social media, and occasionally in text messages. It’s a small thing, I know, but because of the way I’ve trained myself to read, these random capital letters really mess with my head.