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April 27, 2007


Sean Boulton

I'm a grammar nut, so I've really enjoyed reading your posts.

I'm on board with E.E. Cummings, because more recent sources indicate he never asked for his name to spelled in lower case - it was his publisher's idea. However, k.d. lang is her stage name and that's how she spells it - it would be disrespectful to put the initials upper case. Would you insist on using Archibald Leach in place of Cary Grant? What would you have advised for Prince when he was using the symbol in place of his name?

I'd look at it as similar to proper style for "God". Every style manual will tell you to capitalize the 'g', as if it were a proper name. I'm not religious, and I look at the word as a concept and not a proper name, so I think it would be more appropriate to use a lower-case 'g'. However, I still respect general usage.

Similarly with iPod - it's a trademarked name of a product. You can't change the name and capitalize the 'i' if it starts a sentence just because it's incompatible with the normal rules of grammar.


When it starts a sentence, shouldn't iPod still have a capital letter p? I think that would be the general case for camel case words, even though it looks weird either way when the leading part is only one letter. I'm tempted to look around Apple's web site until I find an example but I suspect they just avoid pluralising it at the beginning of sentences. I'm tempted to think there might be grammatical reasons to prefer "The iPod is easy to use" over "IPods are easy to use", independent of camel case oddities, but you can't make that argument for, say, eBay, which has the same problem.

Dan Santow

Sean, Greg, thank you both for your thoughtful comments.

First, Sean, thanks for the trivia about Cummings’ name (I’m avoiding using his initials now). Very interesting. I don’t think the situation is comparable to Cary Grant/Archibald Leach, though. A person changing his name is different than a person formatting it unconventionally and expecting others to follow suit (I’m talking format, not spelling; when I was about 13 I decided, for some reason, to spell my name Dannye, which I did for a few years). I’m cuckoo crazy for K.D. Lang, too, but The New York Times and others aren’t going to be dictated to by someone’s personal quirks. Do a search on nytimes.com and you’ll see what I mean. As for the word “god,” well, I agree halfway with you. I’m 100 percent nonreligious – despite having been bar mitzvahed – but still uppercase the word when referring to one’s deity, but lowercase it when referring to the concept of a god. Saying I believe in God is different than saying I do not believe in a god. Lastly, as for iPod, I just disagree with you completely – uppercasing the letter I if the word iPod starts a sentence is completely compatible with the rules of grammar. Doing so is also New York Times and Washington Post style (same for eBay/Ebay), as well as AP style. In fact, in a Q&A on AP’s Web site, this was discussed and the response was “If it starts a sentence, it's IPod.” Oddly, a Reuters article from just a few days ago (April 25) in the Washington Post formatted iPod “Ipod” in the middle of a sentence, so go figure.

Greg, yes, even if it starts a sentence iPod should have an uppercase P (that was my mistake, and I just corrected it in my post, so thank you for pointing it out).

b. collins

another great piece for lifehacker.


So: Is "wiki" a verb AND a noun, or just a noun?


Ugh! How horribly inconsistent and antiquated. I'm supposed to write Internet and intranet (and presumably extranet) with different capitalization rules? Webmaster but not website? iPod yet Yahoo? These don't make sense.

I get the feeling that AP is making up confusing rules just to sort out the grammatical elite from the common people.

Dan Santow

Nick, I suppose wiki can be a verb, though to be honest I’m not going to encourage you.

And Ragdoll, far be it from me to be an AP Stylebook apologist, but in many cases there is some logic behind its guidance. For instance, it’s Internet (instead of internet) because AP says it is “a unique computer network, which is why it is often referred to as ‘the" Internet.’” But the same can’t be said of intranet or extranet.

Norm Leigh

Thanks for the handy list of AP style conventions for some commonly used words and phrases. As a long-time reporter and now a PR practitioner, I've been using the AP Stylebook throughout my career. Though at times it can be frustrating tracking down a usage matter, overall, it's a wonderful resource. Lists like your's are ideal because they make the information even more easily accessible. I don't know if the AP has put out an indexed electronic version of their reference benchmark. If they haven't, they should.


Mind clarifying listserv/Listserv? The footnote doesn't seem to agree with the list? Thanks!

Dan Santow

Dorothy! You're right, I erred in my footnote - the correct AP Style is, as it appears in the list, Listserv (uppercased because, as AP notes, it is "a trademark name for computer software for managing electronic mailing lists." Thanks for your close reading and question.


I would like to include one minor comment the appropriate writing style for tech lingo. This is a minor thing, and I'm probably being a bit nitpicky, but I'm a techno-geek. Your list mentions the proper spelling and capitalization for words like "megabyte" and "kilobyte". I would like to add that there is an established syntax for their abbreviations as well. "Megabyte" is abbreviated "MB", all caps. "Mb" with a lowercase "b" is the abbreviation for "megabit". The same is true for kilobytes, gigabytes, and so on.

Britt Stromberg

Perhaps a different topic, but I'm curious what your thoughts are about using contractions in Web copy.

I advise clients to use them because they're easier to read/scan, but I get pushback about formality. This usually happens with larger, more established brands.

Rich Rosa

Wow, I must be a real grammar geek because I love this post. What are your thoughts on on-line and online?

My understanding is that when used as an adjective, it's "on-line," i.e., He uses on-line marketing to promote his business, and it's "online "when it is used as a noun, i.e., He does all his marketing online.



social bookmarking

really appreciated

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