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((((((((((((((((( WEBREFERENCE UPDATE NEWSLETTER ))))))))))))))))) March 22, 2001


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This week Meryl Evans is back with more grammar gotchas. This time she dives into the complexities of headline capitalization.


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New this week on WebReference.com and the Web:

1. TWO NEW CONTESTS: Submit & Win HoTMetaL Pro 6.0 and XMetaL 2.0! Signup & Win! 2. FEATURED ARTICLE: EGGads! Capital Headline Mistakes 3. NET NEWS: * Cell phones inch closer to big leap into Internet * Tim Berners-Lee on the W3C's Semantic Web Activity * Moving Home: Portable Site Information

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 1. TWO NEW CONTESTS: Submit & Win HoTMetaL Pro 6.0 and XMetaL 2.0! Signup & Win

>Submit & Win HoTMetaL Pro 6.0 and XMetaL 2.0!

Submit your article today and you could win SoftQuad's HoTMetaL Pro 6.0 and XMetaL 2.0! If your article makes the cut, and we publish it on the site or in this newsletter, you win! Meryl Evans wins HoTMetaL Pro 6.0 and XMetaL 2.0 this week for her article about on headline capitalization. See the submission page for details:


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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 2. FEATURED ARTICLE: EGGads! Capital Headline Mistakes

Titles. What is the problem? Editors and writers all over struggle with capitalization and style issues when writing headlines or titles. Me included. Dear EGGers, I shall help us all better understand which words we need to capitalize in a title.

Let's start with the orange book, CMS (Chicago Manual of Style). It states in 7.127, "In regular title capitalization, also known as headline style, the first and last words and all nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, and subordinating conjunctions (if, because, as, that, etc.) are capitalized."

Of course, the orange book was last published in 1993 prior to the Internet's boom. I did a little research beyond the CMS for some sage advice on writing online headlines and found Garbl (Garbl is an acronym for Gary B. Larson, webmaster for the Garbl Editorial Style Manual). He explains, "Capitalize only proper nouns and the first word in headlines. To improve readability, avoid capitalizing all the letters in more than one or two words in headlines and headings. Punctuate headlines like sentences." Guess what? There are exceptions. See them for yourself at http://members.home.net/garbl/stylemanual/cthrud.htm#capitalization. Some people believe that using sentence case, especially for online articles is easier on the eyes.

Others think they should be written differently to stand out. Don't worry, EGGers, I will explain.

Most of the capitalization problems in titles are with words that are three letters or less. Rule of thumb is that when a word is greater than three letters, and it is NOT a preposition or a conjunction, then capitalize it. For programmers who can't understand, let me rephrase:

Var X = "word" Var Y = "letters"

If (Y > 3 && X != "preposition" && X != "conjunction") { X = "Capital Word"; } Else { X = "Read on"; }

Always capitalize the first and last word in the title regardless of what part of speech it may be. Of course, if you have some creative reason for not capitalizing it, by all means do it. The point is not to kill the creativity, but to help you write darn good gramma when the occasion calls for it. Yes, this is covered in CMS. See rules 7.126, 7.127, and 7.128. The URL is: http://members.home.net/garbl/stylemanual/cthrud.htm#capitalization.

Is It "Is" or "is" and "It" or "it?"

Even I have been guilty of getting confused with diminutive words and whether or not they should be given capitalization honors. "Is" and "it" are major troublemakers in my writing life and I never have a reference at hand when I need to know what to do with "it."

Now, I've got it in my thick skull that they should always be capitalized in a title! Technically, "it" is a pronoun and "is" is a verb and these have should have the big "I." Along the same lines of "is," "be" and "are" are verbs and should also be capitalized.

To cover my butt for grammar nitpickers, "it" can also be a noun. But it doesn't matter because nouns are capitalized. However, it is best to avoid the flat verb "is" when writing headlines and use action verbs.

In conclusion, YES, capitalize 'is' and 'it' in all instances. Example:

Marvelous Meryl Is at It Again!

Wondering about "at?" Read more at:



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Stop Propositioning the Prepositions

Don't prop up the preps by capitalizing them. They're not capitalized unless they are the first or last word of the title. Such words include: about, above, across, after, against, along, among, around, at, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, beyond, but, by, despite, down, during, except, for, from, in, inside, into, like, near, of, off, on, onto, out, outside, over, past, since, through, throughout, to, toward, under, underneath, until, up, upon, with, within, and without.

If you hate words like noun, preposition, adjective, adverbs, conjunctions, and so on, then you're not alone. Who wants to remember back to grade school when we had to diagram sentences (Eek!) and remember prepositions, intransitive verbs, conjunctions, and all that rubbish?

Here is a developer-style definition of preposition:

A preposition is a word that links something to another sentence to indicate the temporal, spatial or logical relationship of its object to the rest of the sentence.

Example: Did you put the code into the application?

That list I just gave you? Well, "in" is not always lower case. Excuse me; I am going to take off for a minute to avoid that shoe you're about to throw at me.


I'm a Basket Case - Whazzup with "In?"

Mr. In is very unusual and likes to screw things up for everyone including Meryl "Two-Syllables-and-Not-One-and-sounds-like-Cheryl." In some cases, his I is big and in others it's small.

Big I - preposition, refer to previous paragraph. Little i - adverb

Dagnabbit, Meryl, you just said "adverb." OK, easy way to remember, adverbs typically have "ly" at the end of the word. Hey, I just used an adverb to define the meaning of an adverb. What do you mean which word? "Typically!" There are "ly" words that are adjectives and not adverbs. But, let's not get into that and drive us crazy.

But then, how can "in" be an adverb when "inly" is not a word? Good question, Meryl. Adverbs answer the questions of "how," "when," "where," and "how much."



To Be or Not "To" or "to" Be?

It's easy to figure out that the first "to" should be capitalized since it is the start of the sentence. Forget for a moment that this comes from Shakespeare. Bill broke many rules, but of course, he bought himself a huge creative license. What do we do about the second "to?"

If it is an infinitive, then it should be "to." So shoot me! No matter how hard I try to avoid those nasty grammar words, they come out anyway. If you took Spanish or French, then you encountered many infinitives. Let me dig into the cobwebs of my brain that covered foreign language and come up with an example.

Ah-ha, cantar. In Spanish, it means, "to sing." You may say, "Meryl, tu no cantas." Gracias, Sherlock, I know I can't sing.

"To" can also be an adverb and in this case, cappy it (Oh, I got tired of typing, "capitalize." So, figure it out.). It is an adverb when you speak of "in a direction toward," "into contact," "to the matter in hand," or "to a state of consciousness or awareness"

If you don't believe it, click to: http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary.

Nonsense Title: But It Is Not As If An And Or Nor Could

If the above were a real title, which words should be cappy and which should not (all of it is capitalized on purpose for you to figure out)? Oh, you wimp, giving me "Nonsense" as your answer. Come on, everyone knows the first word is a cappy.

You know those complicated and babbling white papers that often start with a long title with a colon in it to indicate a subtitle? The subtitle is treated like a sentence, cappy the first one and not the rest.

But, would you cappy the "but" if it were not the first word? What about the rest? "Is" and "it" don't count since I gave you the answer a few paragraphs back.

Let's put one group together: "but," "as," "if," "or," "and," and "nor." Oh boy, another song comes to my head! Canto! Canto! Ms. "Two-You-Know-What" howls, "Conjunction junction, what's your function?" SchoolHouse Rock rocks! These are conjunctions and they ain't got no cappy. Other conjunctions include: "for," "yet," and "so."

It's clear as mud what to do with "as." I looked in several places and one said cappy it because it's a subordinating conjunction. I know, I know, don't ask. Just refer to the list at ">http://cctc2.commnet.edu/grammar/conjunctions.htm> instead. CMS says that these subordinating thingies are always cappied.

Before we close the books on Petticoat Junction, let me tell you that I'm confused. According to the definition of subordinating whatchamacallit, these words can be prepositions. Yet, we're not supposed to cappy those preps! My eyeballs are falling out of their sockets from reading so much material trying to get this straight for you, my dear Eggers.

The leftovers are "the," "a," and "an." These are articles. No, not the clothing type. These are the words that give nouns a definitive. No caps here. Like everything else, they're capitalized only when they're a first or last word of a title.

I shall again quote the rest of section 7.127 of the CMS to prove this is all correct. "Articles (a, an, the), coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, for, nor) and prepositions, regardless of length, are lowercased unless they are first or last world of the title or subtitle."

In the end, the right way to capitalize the nonsense title:

Nonsense Title: But It Is Not as if an and or nor Could

http://www.clearcf.uvic.ca/writersguide/Pages/CitCapiTitles.html http://cctc2.commnet.edu/grammar/conjunctions.htm http://www-personal.si.umich.edu/~varnum/Stories/Schoolhouse.html

Exemplary Examples

I went out there in the Web world to hunt down headlines. Here are a few I have found and my comments on each:

Airlines and Customers Pay for Old Systems Capitalization is correct!

Investors shun volatility This Web site chooses to use sentence case in all of its titles. Its use is consistent throughout the Web site and it is acceptable.

CAKE CHAOS Don't ask what this article is about, but this Web site capitalizes all headlines. This is fine because it makes each one stand out. On the other hand, see note below regarding all caps.

Submit & Win HoTMetaL Pro 6 and XMetaL 2.0! Yes, this is from our very own WebReference.com front page. Who can resist this? I obviously could not since that is why I submitted this article. Do not fault WebReference for the weird capitalization of the product. That is SoftQuad's decision. The only thing I would change is spell out & in accordance with CMS rule 7.129, "Retain the spelling of the original title, but change "&" to "and"..." Although the focus here is on capitalization, be aware that you should spell out most things including names of centuries and numbers.

Object-Oriented Programming with JavaScript, Part I: Inheritance This is my chance to kiss up to the webreference folks. This is perfect! Even the compound is correct because "oriented" is not an article, preposition, coordinating conjathingy, or a modifier. There's more on compounds coming shortly.

Rembrandt Is the Star at the Maastricht Fair This would be challenging even for me because of all the little words in it. This Web site receives an 'A' for its correct capitalization of the headline.


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**********************************************************adv.**** Heading Out

Here are some final thoughts on headachy headlines and capitalizing them. Do we cap both words in hyphenated compounds? Sorry 'bout the fancy schmancy words. We're talking words like "hanky-panky" (and don't be doing any of that here), "pooh-pooh" (I say, "pooh-pooh" to those who like to point out all my errors in this article), and "mind-blowing" (Meryl has done it again! She has written another mind-blowing grammar article!).

Now, if these words were part of the article title, would both be cappied or just one? Even the CMS is still thinking on this one and plans to revamp section 7.128 in the next edition. You can read the full schpiel at http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/cmosfaq.html#6 >. For those too tired to go look at it, CMS explains that some editors have adopted a simple rule and cap only the first word. Of course, it gets more complicated. There are exceptions in properly nouns and adjectives, and trademarks. For the moment, the current edition says the following is correct:

Meryl Evades a Run-In

Since the compound is the last "word" of the sentence, it is capitalized even though it is a preposition. If it were part of a sentence in this article, then "in" would not be capitalized. Capisce? You may not after reading the following headline:

A Run-in with FBI Agents

"In" is not capitalized since it is NOT the first word of the sentence, thus the preposition rule takes precedence.

CMS says, "Capitalizing hyphenated and open compounds in titles may be simplified by application of the following rule: First elements are always capitalized; subsequent elements are capitalized unless they are articles, prepositions, coordinating conjunctions, or such modifiers as flat, sharp, and natural following musical key symbols; second elements are not attached by hyphens to prefixes are not capitalized unless they are proper nouns or proper adjectives. If the compound (other than one with hyphenated prefix) comes at the end of the title, its final element, whatever part of speech it may be, is always capitalized."

Whew. That's long, yawn and complex, but necessary to prove my point.

You can take the easy way out and do everything in upper case or everything in lower case and blame creativity. Before you consider all caps, KEEP IN MIND THAT WHEN YOU DO IT THAT WAY, WE THINK YOU'RE YELLING AT US! Also, don't do this: http://webreference.com/new/webgrammar2.html (see last paragraph of BEST OF BOTH WORLDS).

Thanks for reading! Now head out of here - go forth and write left (I am a southpaw) and remember the capitalization rules I taught you!

John Grossman, ed., The Chicago Manual of Style. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1993. http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/cmosfaq.html#6 http://members.home.net/garbl/stylemanual/ethruh.htm#headlines http://englishplus.com/news/news0699.htm http://webster.commnet.edu/grammar/compounds.htm http://webreference.com/new/webgrammar2.html


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# # #

EGGhead Meryl http://www.meryl.net >, no relation to Meryl Streep, continues to tick people off with her imperfections in the WebReference http://www.webreference.com > grammar series, but she keeps trucking and ducking. When not doing this, she writes for The Dallas Morning News http://www.dallasnews.com >, Internet Business Forum http://www.ibizhome.com >, WebReview http://www.webreview.com >, and others. In between, she designs Web pages, writes, blogs http://www.meryl.net/blog >, and works for a telecom company. Don't want to do the dirty work in writing smart grammar and other odds 'n ends? E-me meryl@onramp.net for a consult!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 3. NET NEWS: Cell phones inch closer to big leap into Internet Tim Berners-Lee on the W3C's Semantic Web Activity Moving Home: Portable Site Information

>Cell phones inch closer to big leap into Internet

We've all heard a lot about reading Web pages on cell phones, but the reality is that downloads are too slow. Now things have changed thanks to Nokia and Siemens. http://www.orlandosentinel.com/technology/sns-cellphones.story

>Tim Berners-Lee on the W3C's Semantic Web Activity

Interview with the inventor of the World Wide Web. He spins his tale about the future of the semantic Web http://www.xml.com/pub/a/2001/03/21/timbl.html

>Moving Home: Portable Site Information

Learn how to make your site portable with XML. http://www.xml.com/pub/a/2000/03/22/psi/index.html

That's it for this week, see you next time.

Andrew King Managing Editor, WebReference.com update@webreference.com

Alexander Rylance Assistant Editor, WebReference.com arylance@internet.com

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