Grammar Giggle – Capitalization is Apparently Fun!

This Giggle was sent to me by a friend. Note the “Use and Care” section. There is a time and place for capitalization and I’ve posted about that before here and here, but random capitals are not appropriate. I can’t even tell why they decided to capitalize these words.


Personal Titles and Capitalization

There is some confusion over when to capitalize personal titles. Here are the “rules”:

  • Capitalize official titles of honor and respect when they precede a personal name
    • Personal Titles—Mr. John Jones
    • Executive Titles—President Hank Brown
    • Professional Titles—Professor Sue Allen
    • Civic Titles—Councilman Frank Thomas
    • Military Titles—Sergeant Sharon Smith
    • Religious Titles—Bishop Samuel Stone
  • Do not capitalize these titles when the personal name follows, set off by commas, as a description of the title
    • The professor, Sue Allen, teaches on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
    • The president, Hank Brown, is in meetings all day today.
  • Do not capitalize occupational titles when they precede a name.
    • The work of attorney John Jones is full of grammatical errors.

To determine whether it is an official title as opposed to an occupational title, decide if you can use the title with just the last name. You would not say “Lawyer Jones,” “Director of Marketing Smith,” etc. Do not use a title before a person’s name unless it is short and you would actually say the title when you address that person. For instance, you might say Professor Allen, but you would not say Professor of Literary Arts Allen. Instead, that sentence would start “Sue Allen, professor of literary arts, . . .”

  • When you have a title that would be capitalized, be careful not to confuse it with a more generic expression that would not be capitalized:
    • Judge John Jones
    • BUT NOT: Federal Judge John Jones or federal Judge John Jones
  • Generally, you would not capitalize titles of honor and respect when they follow a personal name or are in place of a personal name:
    • Hank Brown, president of XYZ Corporation, attended the meeting this morning.
    • The president of XYZ Corporation attended the meeting.
    • Jerry Hawkins, director of ABC Corporation, was the only dissenting vote of the board of directors.
    • The directors of ABC Corporation voted on the CEO’s pay increase.

However, when that title is for a high-ranking national, state, or international official and follows or replaces the personal name, it is capitalized:

  • Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense
  • Ambassador John Phillips

Modern usage is even changing parts of this rule. Some sources now recommend that these titles not be capitalized when they follow or replace a proper name of a high-ranking official as in “The queen will visit the prime minister of Australia during her visit there.” If you will use this style, remember to give both officials the same treatment so that “queen” and “prime minister” are both not capitalized. The same rule applies when using two high-ranking officials with their position and name, i.e. “Queen Elizabeth will meet with President Obama in Washington, D.C.” NOT “Queen Elizabeth will meet with the president.” Just use equal treatment.

  • Titles of organizational officials are generally not capitalized when they follow or replace the officer’s name EXCEPT in formal minutes, rules, and bylaws.
    • The director of membership is responsible for greeting new members.
    • The President called the meeting to order at 6:45 p.m. (In formal minutes.)
  • Do not capitalize job titles when they stand alone. In someintercompany memos and announcements, the title may be capitalized for special emphasis.
    • Please join us in congratulating John Jones, who was promoted to Paralegal Manager today. (Interoffice announcement.)
    • Please see the paralegal manager for your next assignment.
  • Do not capitalize titles when you are using it as a general term of classification
    • all of the senators
    • the kings

HOWEVER, because of the special position of the President of the United States, that title is always capitalized even when used as a general term of classification

  • all U.S. Presidents

In a letter’s inside address, writer’s signature block, envelope, and on business cards, the titles are ALWAYS capitalized whether they are before or after the proper name.

I hope this helps clear up some confusion in using personal titles correctly.

Capitalization in Legal Documents

A reader asked about capitalization in legal documents. It sounds like it should be simple but research shows lots of people have their own ideas about what should be capitalized. The Gregg Reference Manual says there is no uniform style for capitalization in legal documents, but common practice is to capitalize key terms such as the parties and the type of document you are working on. Since we’re talking about legal documents, I checked The Bluebook (19th ed.). Here is a quick breakdown of capitalization “rules” according to both sources:

Court – The word “court” is capitalized in these instances:

  • Always when referring to the United States Supreme Court
  • Always when the name of the court is spelled out, i.e., the United States District Court.
  • When your document is talking about the specific court that will rule, i.e., “We ask the Court to rule in favor of the Plaintiff”
  • Do not capitalize the word “court” when talking about a ruling in another case, i.e., “The court in Roe ruled . . .”

Parties – When referring to the parties in your particular document, capitalize their designation:

  • “The Plaintiff files this Reply in Support of Motion to Dismiss.”
  • However, “The defendant in Smith v. Jones used the unclean hands defense.”

State – Capitalize the word “state” in these instances:

  • When it is part of the full name of the state, i.e., the State of California
  • When the word it modifies is capitalized, i.e., the State Education Director
  • When referring to the state as a party to the litigation or as a governmental actor, i.e., “The State filed its Answer on January 14, 2014.”

Titles of Documents – When referring to a document that has been filed in the same matter in which you are filing your document:

  • In the Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiff alleges . . .
  • Under the Court’s February 10, 2014, Order . . .

As for other defined terms in legal documents, I personally think it is much clearer if a term is defined and then capitalized throughout:

  • ABC Corporation (“Corporation”) hereby agrees . . .
  • The doctors employed by St. Joseph’s Hospital (“Doctors”) . . .

This can be tricky when a defined term is used in describing another case. Only capitalize the defined term in YOUR case. If you can substitute the full name of the defined term, you can capitalize it. For instance, using our definition of “Corporation” above:

  • “At all times relevant hereto, Corporation was engaged in business in the state of Arizona.” Here, “. . . ABC Corporation was engaged in business . . .” is correct since you are talking about the defined Corporation.
  • HOWEVER–“In Smith, the corporation was engaged in the business of providing license plate holders through Internet sales.” Note that in this example, the corporation you are referring to is a corporation in the Smith case, not ABC Corporation.

The same basic rule applies to defined documents:

  • In its Motion for Summary Judgment (“Motion”), Plaintiff is attempting . . .. The Motion is untimely.

One thing I did learn is that in legal documents using Bluebook style, words in headings are capitalized except for articles, conjunctions, or prepositions of four or fewer letters unless they begin the heading. This is different than the Gregg style for regular writing. See Things Are Coming to a Head[ing]!

What rules do you have for capitalization in legal documents? Please share them in the comments.



Bubble Wrap, Champagne, and Solo Cups–Sounds Like a Party!

18394703_sIn listening to one of my favorite podcasts (Stop! … Grammar Time*) on the way to work recently, one of the topics was products that are a brand name and should be capitalized even though generic products are commonly called by the brand name. There are many of them. Here are a few:

Adobe – brand name of PDF program, even though some people say “Adobe” when they are referring to a PDF

Astroturf – brand of artificial grass

Band-Aid – brand of bandage

Boogie board – Boogie is a tradename for body board

BOOKS ON TAPE -brand name for audiobooks

Breathalyzer -brand name for breath alcohol testing equipment

Bubble Wrap – brand name for cushioning product for shipping

Champagne – sparkling wine that comes from the Champagne region of France.  Sparkling wine from anywhere other than the Champagne region of France cannot be called “Champagne” but must be called “sparkling wine.”

Clicker – brand name of garage door opener

Clorox – brand name of bleach

Coke – brand name for cola flavored soda – short for Coca Cola

Disposall – brand name for garbage disposer in the sink

Dixie cup – Dixie is brand name for disposable cup

Dumpster – trademarked brand name for type of trash bin

Frisbee – trade name for flying disc toy

Jacuzzi – brand name of hot tub

Jet Ski – brand name for personal watercraft

Karo – brand name of corn syrup

Kitty Litter – brand name of cat box filler

Kleenex – brand name of tissue

La-Z-Boy – brand name of recliner

Levi’s – brand name of denim pants

Mace – brand name of pepper spray

Magic Marker – brand name of permanent marker

Plexiglass – brand name of acrylic sheet

Popsicle – brand name of frozen ice pop

Post-it – brand name of sticky notes

Q-tips – brand name of cotton swab

Rolodex – brand name of contact card system

Scotch Tape – brand name of invisible tape

Seeing Eye dog – name of organization that trains dogs for use by blind people

SHEETROCK – brand name of gypsum panel

Solo cup – Solo is brand name of disposal cup

Styrofoam – brand name of plastic foam

Super Glue – brand name of permanent adhesive

Tabasco – brand name of hot pepper sauce

Taser – brand name of stun gun

Vaseline – brand name of petroleum jelly products

Velcro – brand name of hook and loop fastener

WD-40 – brand name of rust-prevention solvents and degreasers

Windbreaker – brand name of wind resistant sports jacket

Windex – brand name of window cleaner

Wite-Out – brand name of correction fluid

Xerox – brand name of copier equipment

Yellow Pages – brand name of telephone directory advertising section

Ziploc – brand name of reusable, re-sealable zipper storage bag

These brand names should be used only when talking about that specific brand and should then be properly capitalized.


*Note that “Stop . . . Grammar Time” contains language that might be offensive to some but is still a very informative podcast.