Capital suggestions of minuscule importance

From a reader:

I have noticed that when you cite documents you are inconsistent with how the titles are written.  For example, you wrote “Lumen gentium” with a small g, but “Redemptionis Sacramentum”.  What gives?  Typos?  You also stick superfluous apostrophes in at times, too!

Allow me to apostrophize now: “O Lord, grant me patience!”

Yes, I sometimes interpolate stray apostrophes.  My bad.  Sometimes I use rented fingers in my attempt to churn out entries which you can read … for free.  But we can remedy that.

The issue of titles of documents is another matter.

It is a common “mistake” to capitalize all the words of the title of a Church document.  You find this even on the Holy See’s website’s collection’s of Popes’ document’s’.  I write “mistake”,  though that word is too strong.   Different publications or publishers have their own style sheets.  However, conventionally we ought to capitalize all the words which are to be capitalized, and not those which don’t merit the distinction.

First, it must be remarked that documents are normally named from the first few words of the document.  Therefore the orthography of the title should reflect the orthography of the text.

For example, the Council’s document on the Church is sometimes entitled Lumen Gentium. However, more properly – again according to a long-established convention – it should be Lumen gentium, for gentium is not properly capitalized in its own right and needs a minuscule rather than the majescule.  The same goes for Gaudium et spes or Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae vitae.

On the other hand we write Sacrosanctum Concilium, not Sacrosanctum concilium, because the word Concilium is capitalized in its own right.

Some other majescular examples.  The encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi or Divino afflante Spiritu.  We write Summorum Pontificum, not Summorum pontificum.   We write Universae Ecclesiae and not Universae ecclesiae.

Chose one convention or another when writing, but be consistent within your work.

Of minuscule importance to most people, but of capital importance to others.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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16 Responses to Capital suggestions of minuscule importance

  1. MJ says:

    “Well, well, good, good! Capital, capital!” – Sir Lucas, Pride & Prejudice

  2. Jack Hughes says:

    No need for rented fingers Father, just give us one or two entries a day (or every other day ) which you have typed with your own fingers and are of good quality.

    We all know that Priests are as busy as the monkeys who are illegally occupying a Banana plantation, and we don’t expect miracles.

    In Dommino
    Jack in UK

  3. Jack: … Priests are as busy…

    Busy? If you want to talk about people who are truly busy, try mothers with several young children at home. They have a work load that would make most priests curl up in a ball and whimper for mercy.

    Everyone worthy his or her salt is busy, friend.

    But this is a rabbit hole having nothing to do with the topic of this entry and it is hereby CLOSED.

  4. Panterina says:

    In American English (well, let’s make that English tout court), the generally accepted convention for the capitalization of English titles is to capitalize. So, this practice conditions our eyes to expect just that. But, this does not automatically apply to works written in a foreign language, where the capitalization rules may be different (take Italian or Spanish, for example, and I’m guessing that ecclesiastical Latin follows the same conventions).

    Having said that, this is a just a blog, where we need to cut people some slack. If Father wants to capitalize, not capitalize, or alternate as his mood, energy or fingers please, so be it. It’s his blog, so he can follow any style he wants, or none. Were Father to publish a book (I’m hoping he’ll collect his excellent Sunday reflections into a volume, one day), then I’m sure his editor will ensure that the style is consistent.

    Having-said-that Part 2: As a trained translator, inconsistencies are not easy on my eyes and give me an ulcer each time, so please have mercy…. :-)

  5. HyacinthClare says:

    Ignore ‘em, Father. Ignore ‘em. You’re doin’ just fine by THIS ol’ schoolteacher.

  6. APX says:

    the Holy See’s website’s collection’s of Popes’ document’s’
    Excellent use of superfluous apostrophes, Father. Lol!

    FWIW: This entry increased my vocabulary by 4.5 words. Since finding your blog it has gone up significantly.

  7. Titus says:

    In American English (well, let’s make that English tout court), the generally accepted convention for the capitalization of English titles is to capitalize. So, this practice conditions our eyes to expect just that.

    Also, English speakers invariably tend to give discrete titles to works (e.g., The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery (Which He Never Meant to Publish on Any Account)). The “titles” of Church documents, on the other hand, seem traditionally to have been generated after the fact by those referencing the document, and only more recently put at the top from the outset. That would explain both the convention for naming them (just borrow the first two words) and the convention for capitalizing (as those words appeared in the text). My history might be off, but the absence of independently composed titles certainly seems to have a strong relation to the capitalization convention.

  8. Banjo pickin girl says:

    You mean there isn’t a big brightly colored volume called The Vatican Manual of Style?

  9. Tom in NY says:

    Exempli gratia, titulum Annales imperii Romae aut De re coquinaria estne?

    Saluationes omnibus.

  10. Anne C. says:

    This is a general observation, not just in reference to this blog, and certainly not a complaint against the good Fr. Z!

    Whatever happened to capitalizing any words (usually pronouns) referring to God? I majored in English, and I don’t remember ever hearing that the rule had been changed! Yet I see everywhere, even in our missalettes in church, that the words “He,” “Him,” and “His” are usually NOT capitalized! Even e. e. cummings, who didn’t capitalize his own name, made it a rule in his poetry to capitalize words that referred to God! Hmph! (End of rant.)

  11. jasoncpetty says:

    We often hear about how much email poor Father gets, and I assumed he got his fair share of ‘OMG HAVE YOU SEEN THIS DRUDGE REPORT HEADLINE?’ and ‘Fw: FW: Fw: PrAyEr ChAiN KEEP IT GOING LOL,’ which could be summarily deleted based on their title alone. But this, this?

    People, if you’re going to email a total stranger whose existence has been made known to you only by his having a website, even if he is a Catholic priest, seriously ask yourself why am I doing this?

    Poor Father.

  12. MyBrokenFiat says:

    Oh my goodness, I couldn’t possibly love Father’s response to this any more than I do right now. If I could turn it into a sheet, I’d tie it around my neck and fly around the house as if I were a superhero. Then, I’d wrap myself up in its awesomeness and snuggle quickly to sleep.

    Seriously – Best. Response. Ever.

    Ha ha ha. Thank you for this. I was in need of a smile tonight. The “superhero cape” is a total bonus.

  13. BLB Oregon says:

    Thanks, Father, I’ve wondered about the different conventions.

    “Busy? If you want to talk about people who are truly busy, try mothers with several young children at home. They have a work load that would make most priests curl up in a ball and whimper for mercy.”

    People who do not have Stage IV cancer can still be seriously ill.
    Priests are seriously busy. It is remarkable that more of them aren’t curling up in balls and crying for mercy.

    Besides, consider that the children grow up in a few years, while a lot of the priests are still at it after their brothers and sisters have started welcoming grandchildren.

    It’s 24/7/365 for them, too. “Father” is a rightful form of address!

  14. Alice says:

    Anne,
    One of my high school English books which a reprint of a book printed ~1960 mentioned that most people capitalized pronouns referring to God but that some Catholics, who were just as devout as those who capitalized, didn’t. It also said that the devil gets all kinds of capital letters that he doesn’t deserve. I think there was even an example where a student refused to capitalize the word Lucifer. I laugh whenever I think of that book.

  15. Nathan says:

    Father Z: Sometimes I use rented fingers in my attempt to churn out entries which you can read … for free.

    That was hilarious. I’m glad, Father, that you haven’t figured out a way to charge us in the comboxes for our own typos and spelling errors. If that were the case, my children’s college funds would be in serious jeopardy.

    Thunk You, Father: for you’re witt and WisDom/

    In Christ,

  16. pfreddys says:

    For crying out loud, we should come to this blog for wisdom, we should not come for nit-picking!!! {I dont know if I’ll be able to sleep tonight, I dont know if I should capitalise the w in wisdom!!!}.
    BTW, would this be considered a capital offence? {sorry, couldnt help it}