My latest book is in shops (if they are open) this week. And it presents me with a problem.
It’s a football nostalgia book titled We Had a Dream: Scotland Internationals in the Black & White Era. I’m hoping to capture sales in the run-up to the Euros, and would recommend it as a Father’s Day gift for a football chap.
My problem, however, is the lower case a, in, and the.
The accepted presentation of book, film, and TV show titles is that articles (a, an, the), conjunctions (and, but), and sometimes even prepositions (among, between, upon) are kept all lower case. But nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs are given an initial capital. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Line of Duty, Lord of the Rings, Back to the Future.
I have never been comfortable with this. I prefer consistency. I’d give all the words capitals. The Return Of The Jedi, Game Of Thrones, The Catcher In The Rye. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman sounds like two books. But if “And” and “Of” are capitalised, then you are in no doubt. It is one book.
Not long ago, film, book, and play titles, and the names of ships, were italicised. But in modern newspapers and magazines this is seen as fussy and time-consuming. I strongly resisted that notion in my time as a sub-editor. I think taking the extra few seconds use italics clarified the matter for readers.
Knowing when to use a capital letter can be tricky. You’d give an upper-case S to the South, if talking about the UK region below Watford. But are you tempted to give a capital to the south wind? You would capitalise the Queen of England, but what about a list of English queens?
You’d write: “I told Mother I’d be late”, but should use: “I told your mother I’d be late”. The distinction is that if you substitute a real name you capitalise the substitution. Saying “your mother” isn’t a true substitution, because you wouldn’t say to your daughter: “I told Agnes I’d be late”.
There are exceptions of course. Religious writing caps the H when saying: “in His name”.
When you are describing an office of which there is only one (the Provost) you also use a capital. As soon as you de-personalise, you lose it again: “There have been many provosts”.
Some fools scatter capitals through text with no rhyme nor reason at all. I’m certainly not advocating that. But If an initial capital looks right, and is deserved, then use it. Keep one guiding principle in mind: capitalise a name, not a label.
Or you could address the problem another way, as the designer of my book cover did. He avoided the problem altogether by making the entire title capitals.
Steve’s book can be ordered from: www.dcthomsonshop.co.uk
Word of the week
To pull, or seize roughly, by the ear. EG: “I’d like to sowl prospective buyers to a bookshop.”
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