Never be afraid to get dirty, but be sufficiently sure-footed to avoid the abyss of contamination.


HaVE yOU eVeR hAd an aIm cOnvErSatiON wITh sOMeOne wHO tYpEd lIKe tHiS? hOW abOUt an e-mAiL?

The e-mails tend to get classified as spam, and while there may be some irregular capitalization on Facebook profiles, I haven’t noticed it as much in AIM conversations; however, the latter may simply reflect changes to my social network since high school. The trend I see with instant messaging is minimal if any capitalization. However, some writers of e-mail continue this perhaps arcane trend of yore.

As one of these writers, the question of appropriate capitalization came up when wishing people at the start of a new year. There are variations on such wishes.

  • “Happy New Year!”
    This is a classic greeting that uses capital letters.
  • “Happy New Year’s!”
    This is a shortened version of the greeting, “Happy New Year’s Day!” For the purposes of the post, it is more important to notice that this also starts with capital letters.
  • “I hope you enjoyed the break, and have a happy new year.”
    This may be found anywhere in the body of an e-mail. Here, the writer avoids using a capital letter.

What rules should one follow for this occasion? Where does one go to find the answer? It turns out the University of Delaware’s English Language Institute has a grammar hotline. Although the site is intended for people learning English as a second language, it allows visitors to submit grammar-related questions and provides answers that are organized by topic. Among these is a topic devoted to capitalization, which addresses the first question above.

Are these rules even important? Peter Carey’s Theft uses capitalization effectively by thwarting the conventional rules. While the irregular capitalization in the novel does not resemble anything approaching the opening sentences of this post, it is prevalent enough that the second of two quotes preceding the narrative addresses it directly.

Joachim had been born before the war, in the years when children had to learn by heart the thirteen reasons for using a capital letter. To these he had added one more of his own, which was that he would, in all circumstances, do exactly what he wished.
— Macado Fernandez, One Man


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