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  #1  
Old 06-20-2005, 11:58 PM
TastesLikeBurning TastesLikeBurning is offline
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Why All Capital Letters For Surnames?

As the title suggests, I'm looking for online references to why you sometimes see a person's surname written in all capital letters, particularly on official letters?

Is this correct, or just another thing that people are just adopting because they've seen it done that way somewhere else?


I'll appreciate all input on this.
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  #2  
Old 06-21-2005, 12:19 AM
sewalk sewalk is offline
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To make it stand out. In the ancient days before word processors, changing font sizes couldn't be done on most typewriters (and most Selectric users only had one ball). All-Caps or doublestriking was the only way to make something stand out on a typed page.

In my experience, most military orders were done this way to make finding and identifying the names faster. Perhaps it is a leftover from an old War Department style guide from the 1930's. Not the definitive cite you want but at least a good start point for a detailed search.
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Old 06-21-2005, 02:02 AM
GorillaMan GorillaMan is offline
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The further you go back into history, the more capitalisation you can find, both in the case of full words and with initials. Surnames are just one example....London newspapers fifty years ago would talk about the CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUOR, and 'The Queen' rather than 'the Queen'. In comparison, 'the prime minister' doesn't get any capitals nowadays in many style guides. Go further back, and you'll find capitals used for initials of proper nouns, etc.

Also, acronyms lose their capitals once they become familiar - 'AIDS' is now 'Aids' in most writing, and 'radar' made the full progression from capitals to lower case in a few decades.

So I don't think what the OP is finidng is something particular to surnames, but an example of a more general phenomenon.
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  #4  
Old 06-21-2005, 04:07 AM
Alan Smithee Alan Smithee is offline
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Note that in American writing, "AIDS" is still "AIDS". We're generally more concervative on acronymns (and capitalization generally, it appears). "Radar" is, as you pointed out, "radar," however, even in the US.

I've also seen capital letters for surnames more often in Europe than the US and thought it eminently sensible. Especially since some names are ordinarily surname first, and commas in reversed names are hard to see.
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Old 06-21-2005, 06:28 AM
Jurph Jurph is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TastesLikeBurning
As the title suggests, I'm looking for online references to why you sometimes see a person's surname written in all capital letters, particularly on official letters?

Is this correct, or just another thing that people are just adopting because they've seen it done that way somewhere else?


I'll appreciate all input on this.
I know that it's been adopted as a handy way to tell first names from surnames on business cards, especially if the businessman is Japanese and deals with English speakers. If a Japanese person puts his Anglicized name on a business card, he might occasionally move his family name to the right as a courtesy to his Western associate. This seems sensible, until you realize that there's no firm convention for how this should be done anymore. Capitalization immediately removes all doubt:

GOTO Dengo
Ken WATANABE
Shigeru MIYAMOTO
Junichiro KOIZUMI

This way, when receiving a business card, the Westerner can take a quick glance, and immediately say "Ah, thank you, Goto-san. I hope we can work together for our mutual benefit." ...and he can be pretty sure that he has not just called the guy "Mr. Dave".
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  #6  
Old 06-21-2005, 06:40 AM
Argent Towers Argent Towers is offline
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I see "Scuba" all the time.
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  #7  
Old 06-21-2005, 10:23 PM
TastesLikeBurning TastesLikeBurning is offline
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Thanks for all replies.

If anyone else has any online references for quoting purposes it would be greatly appreciated.
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  #8  
Old 06-21-2005, 11:04 PM
Colibri Colibri is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jurph
I know that it's been adopted as a handy way to tell first names from surnames on business cards, especially if the businessman is Japanese and deals with English speakers. If a Japanese person puts his Anglicized name on a business card, he might occasionally move his family name to the right as a courtesy to his Western associate.
Likewise with other languages. Spanish typically uses a double-barreled last name (father's name/mother's name). However, sometimes the mother's name is omitted, and sometimes a middle name can resemble a last name. Capitalizing the father's name will remove doubt. Also, in many African countries different ethnic groups may have different conventions for the order of family and personal names. Capitalizing the family name sorts this out.
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Old 06-21-2005, 11:43 PM
Gary Robson Gary Robson is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alan Smithee
Note that in American writing, "AIDS" is still "AIDS". We're generally more concervative on acronymns (and capitalization generally, it appears). "Radar" is, as you pointed out, "radar," however, even in the US.
Still, acronyms tend to lose their capital letters fairly quickly in the U.S. In addition to the RADAR and SCUBA examples, you rarely see MODEM, BASIC (the programming language), LASER, and many other tech words written in all caps anymore (not to mention words like SNAFU and FUBAR).
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  #10  
Old 06-22-2005, 08:29 AM
Max Torque Max Torque is offline
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I read police reports almost every day. Apparently, police are trained to fully capitalize the last name of the suspect in their reports every time it occurs; I suppose it helps the reader keep straight whether the officer is referring to M. GONZALES or his wife, M. Gonzales.
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  #11  
Old 06-22-2005, 08:47 AM
Thudlow Boink Thudlow Boink is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alan Smithee
Note that in American writing, "AIDS" is still "AIDS". We're generally more concervative on acronymns (and capitalization generally, it appears). "Radar" is, as you pointed out, "radar," however, even in the US.
Part of the difference here is that "AIDS," the acronym for the disease, is in all caps to distinguish it from "aids" the word (as in "visual aids," "study aids," etc.). In the case of "radar" and other examples mentioned, there's no other, pre-existing word for it to displace, so there's no potential for confusion when writing it in lower-case.
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  #12  
Old 06-22-2005, 08:50 AM
GorillaMan GorillaMan is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Thudlow Boink
Part of the difference here is that "AIDS," the acronym for the disease, is in all caps to distinguish it from "aids" the word (as in "visual aids," "study aids," etc.). In the case of "radar" and other examples mentioned, there's no other, pre-existing word for it to displace, so there's no potential for confusion when writing it in lower-case.
Aids still retains a capital A in Britain. And I don't see why homonyms would be a problem, any more than they are anywhere else in the language.
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  #13  
Old 06-22-2005, 09:02 AM
Aangelica Aangelica is offline
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In some jurisdictions, certain surnames must be rendered in all caps in certain locations on legal documents. This is typically the surnames of the parties to the action, and generally in the captions of documents to be filed.
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  #14  
Old 06-22-2005, 09:27 AM
Thudlow Boink Thudlow Boink is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GorillaMan
Aids still retains a capital A in Britain.
Is there a reason for this? Are any other diseases, besides those named after people, capitalized?
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  #15  
Old 06-22-2005, 09:34 AM
GorillaMan GorillaMan is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Thudlow Boink
Is there a reason for this? Are any other diseases, besides those named after people, capitalized?
Good question, and not that I can think of.

Perhaps it's an intermediate stage, when it's become familiar enough to no longer warrant all-caps, but not yet enough to be all lower case. The only acronym I can think of that is treated like this, and that isn't a title or name in itself, is 'Asbo' (antisocial behaviour order) - which is also a recent creation.
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  #16  
Old 06-22-2005, 09:47 AM
Bippy the Beardless Bippy the Beardless is offline
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Another technical reason can be in sorting name lists. First names are almost always like Abcdefg with just one capital, so sort alphabetically simply by their ascii values, but Surnames can be MacAbcdefg or Abcdefg etc. if such names are sorted as is by their ascii values they go MacA...MacZ...Maca...Macz which is undesirable. Surnames sort better if first converted to all upper or all lower case, but rendering a surname in all lower case seems rude and disrespectful, so all upper case gets used. All of this is a somewhat lazy solution to a problem.
For official forms it is probably so that surnames can have optical character recognition methods used on them since an all capital writing of a name is easier to process than one using capitals and lower case especially if it is written cursively.
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  #17  
Old 06-22-2005, 10:09 AM
t-bonham@scc.net t-bonham@scc.net is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TastesLikeBurning
As the title suggests, I'm looking for online references to why you sometimes see a person's surname written in all capital letters, particularly on official letters?
Often, this is simply because these are form letters generated from a computer system, and many older computer systems may use files with names in all caps. That was pretty common in older computer systems. (The first computer codes I worked with (pre-ASCII) didn't even have any codes for lower case letters!)

And I still run into older workers who enter data in all upper case, cause that's the way they've always done it. Despite the fact that the computer systems have long since been changed to accept mixed case text input. (Sometimes updating a computer system is easier than changing the user's behavior!)
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  #18  
Old 06-22-2005, 10:44 AM
Acsenray Acsenray is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Colibri
Also, in many African countries different ethnic groups may have different conventions for the order of family and personal names. Capitalizing the family name sorts this out.
I've seen this convention mostly on European Union documents and it's worth pointing out that even if you just stay within Europe you have the Hungarians putting their family names first.
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  #19  
Old 06-22-2005, 12:51 PM
The Controvert The Controvert is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jurph
Capitalization immediately removes all doubt:

GOTO Dengo
Ken WATANABE
Shigeru MIYAMOTO
Junichiro KOIZUMI

This way, when receiving a business card, the Westerner can take a quick glance, and immediately say "Ah, thank you, Goto-san. I hope we can work together for our mutual benefit." ...and he can be pretty sure that he has not just called the guy "Mr. Dave".
Here, I would've said "So, which line number is Dengo?"
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  #20  
Old 06-22-2005, 12:55 PM
The Controvert The Controvert is offline
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... and once I get there, "Den" where do I "go"? Ok, Miss Manners, I ain't.
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  #21  
Old 06-22-2005, 01:10 PM
matt_mcl matt_mcl is offline
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This convention is very wide-spread in Esperanto circles, where speakers must obviously deal with many different naming systems. (It's more common in periodicals and correspondence than books, I'd say.)

So it might say, "La c^efministro KOIZUMI J^unic^iro de Japanio renkontis la usonan prezidenton George W. BUSH..."

(Since the prime minister's name is written in a non-Latin script, it would be transcribed using Esperanto phonetics, thus J^unic^iro. The circumflexes should be on the preceding consonants.)
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  #22  
Old 06-23-2005, 07:57 AM
Excalibre Excalibre is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Thudlow Boink
Is there a reason for this? Are any other diseases, besides those named after people, capitalized?
I think there's a general tendency for acronyms to be capitalized in British publications. I've seen references to "Nasa", for example. I assume the deal is that they've become regular words, essentially, and simply happen to be proper nouns in a lot of cases. Whereas in English we just tend to keep the ALL-CAPS look for a longer time.
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  #23  
Old 06-23-2005, 08:31 AM
Acsenray Acsenray is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Excalibre
I think there's a general tendency for acronyms to be capitalized in British publications. I've seen references to "Nasa", for example. I assume the deal is that they've become regular words, essentially, and simply happen to be proper nouns in a lot of cases. Whereas in English we just tend to keep the ALL-CAPS look for a longer time.
And we are more indulgent towards companies that abuse capitalisation, like eBay and nVIDIA.
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  #24  
Old 06-23-2005, 08:34 AM
GorillaMan GorillaMan is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by acsenray
And we are more indulgent towards companies that abuse capitalisation, like eBay and nVIDIA.
I wouldn't be so sure - easyJet is one British example that comes to mind.
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  #25  
Old 06-23-2005, 09:13 AM
Gary Robson Gary Robson is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Excalibre
I think there's a general tendency for acronyms to be capitalized in British publications. I've seen references to "Nasa", for example.
Now that's just plain wrong. You can use snafu instead of SNAFU because it's just a word and you can argue evolution of the language. But NASA is not only an acronym, it's the name of the organization, and you shouldn't call it Nasa any more than you should refer to Ibm, the Eu, or gReat bRitain.
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  #26  
Old 06-23-2005, 09:15 AM
Excalibre Excalibre is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by InvisibleWombat
Now that's just plain wrong. You can use snafu instead of SNAFU because it's just a word and you can argue evolution of the language. But NASA is not only an acronym, it's the name of the organization, and you shouldn't call it Nasa any more than you should refer to Ibm, the Eu, or gReat bRitain.
No, the name of the organization is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
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  #27  
Old 06-23-2005, 10:02 AM
Acsenray Acsenray is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by InvisibleWombat
Now that's just plain wrong. You can use snafu instead of SNAFU because it's just a word and you can argue evolution of the language. But NASA is not only an acronym, it's the name of the organization, and you shouldn't call it Nasa any more than you should refer to Ibm, the Eu, or gReat bRitain.
I don't agree that it's the same thing. I'm fully in favor of Nasa, Uncitral, Unicef, etc. If you're pronouncing it as a word, then I think it's perfectly legitimate to treat it as a word. Yeah, the proper name is the National Aeronautics and Space Adminstration, but we're talking about a nickname anyway. "Nasa" is at least as good as (and in my mind is better than) "NASA."

If you're still pronouncing it as initials, though, then I agree with you, except that I would preserve the periods -- I.B.M., E.U., etc.
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  #28  
Old 06-23-2005, 11:22 AM
Fortean Fortean is offline
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Itís house style in some UK newspapers and magazines to only capitalise the first letter in an acronym if the word is pronounceable, hence Nasa but IBM. Thatís when the acronym is well known of course and doesnít need to be explained. From here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/styleguide...184844,00.html

abbreviations
Spell out less well-known abbreviations on first mention; it is not necessary to spell out well-known ones, such as EU, UN, US, BBC, CIA, FBI, CD, Aids, Nasa
Use all caps only if the abbreviation is pronounced as the individual letters; otherwise spell the word out: the BBC, ICI, VAT, but Isa, Nato

acronyms
take initial cap: Aids, Isa, Mori, Nato
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  #29  
Old 06-23-2005, 02:20 PM
Gary Robson Gary Robson is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Excalibre
No, the name of the organization is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Sure, but look at their logo and the way they refer to their own organization. If e.e. cummings and eBay can specify their own capitalization, why can't NASA (and FEMA and PETA and NOW and other groups with pronouncable acronyms) do the same?

And I see your point on this, acsenray, but I would hardly call NASA a "nickname." It's by far the most commonly-used name for the organization, and they use it extensively on their own Web site, press releases, and so forth. Even if it is just a nickname, don't they have the right to choose their own nickname? I'm not calling you "Ascenray" or "ascenRay" because that's not how you chose to capitalize your nickname. Let's offer NASA and all the others the same courtesy.
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Old 06-23-2005, 02:32 PM
Acsenray Acsenray is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by InvisibleWombat
Sure, but look at their logo and the way they refer to their own organization.
Logos are not language. I don't take cues on capitalization from them. Really, there is an astonishing number of companies who write their logos in all caps. Following that rule, you'd be all-capping names all over the place. Ridiculous.

Quote:
If e.e. cummings
So far as I know, Cummings himself used proper capitalization. It was a publisher's stylistic choice on cover art to lowercase everything. Cummings's own wife disputed the claim that Cummings had expressed a wish that his name always be written in lowercase.

Quote:
and eBay can specify their own capitalization
They can do whatever they want with their names when they write them. Similarly, we can do whatever they want with their names when we write them.

Quote:
, why can't NASA (and FEMA and PETA and NOW and other groups with pronouncable acronyms) do the same?
I see it as a matter of language usage and style, not of some kind of fundamental right to self identification. First of all, Nasa is not a human being, so I don't recognise any rights to dignity or identity.

Quote:
they use it extensively on their own Web site, press releases, and so forth. Even if it is just a nickname, don't they have the right to choose their own nickname?
From where I come from, people don't get to choose their own nicknames. A nickname is what someone else chooses to call you.

Quote:
I'm not calling you "Ascenray" or "ascenRay" because that's not how you chose to capitalize your nickname.
I wouldn't care one way or the other if you did. "Acsenray" is not my name. In any case, were I to use it in a sentence (as I do here), I would use proper capitalization rules.

Quote:
Let's offer NASA and all the others the same courtesy.
So far as I am concerned, it is a matter of language usage, not one of courtesy. And only a person has a claim to courtesy in my view.
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  #31  
Old 06-23-2005, 02:38 PM
Acsenray Acsenray is offline
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Bill Walsh at the Slot hits the nail on the head -- http://www.theslot.com/webnames.html
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  #32  
Old 06-23-2005, 03:20 PM
collect collect is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TastesLikeBurning
As the title suggests, I'm looking for online references to why you sometimes see a person's surname written in all capital letters, particularly on official letters?

Is this correct, or just another thing that people are just adopting because they've seen it done that way somewhere else?


I'll appreciate all input on this.
Going back to my dealing in Postal History, I think it came about when the USPOD (United States Post Office Department) started requiring "return addresses" on commercial mail (c. 1870?) and the printed return addresses done by the USPOD were in "all caps" for legibility. (The USPOD did the printing for almost nothing in order to encourage this - about 25 cents per box of 500 envelopes).
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  #33  
Old 06-23-2005, 05:48 PM
Gary Robson Gary Robson is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by acsenray
Bill Walsh at the Slot hits the nail on the head -- http://www.theslot.com/webnames.html
That is an excellent article. Thank you for pointing me at it. After reading and considering it and your prior post, I'll concede most of the points you made. But not all.

Grownups do, indeed, choose their own nicknames. People hang nicknames on when we're kids, but if we don't choose to adopt the nicknames ourselves, they tend to go away when everyone grows up.

Despite the excellent arguments you make concerning courtesy, corporations, and logos (I should never have mentioned logos), I still feel that there's a reason to capitalize acronyms. It points out that they are acronyms, and I consider that to be useful information. That's what proper style and language usage are all about: conveying information.
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  #34  
Old 06-23-2005, 05:58 PM
GorillaMan GorillaMan is offline
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Originally Posted by InvisibleWombat
I still feel that there's a reason to capitalize acronyms. It points out that they are acronyms, and I consider that to be useful information. That's what proper style and language usage are all about: conveying information.
That, I feel, is exactly what is intended by the Guardian's avoidance of all-caps, as in Fortean's post:

Aids - surely we all know that it's an illness, far more than we're concerned with what the letter stand for?

Isa - A Britishism, I knew what it was, but had to Google to be sure of what the letters stood for

Mori - I never even realised this was an acronum

Nato - "North Atlantic" now stretches from one side of the Bering Straits to, errr, the other side of the Bering Straits.

In none of these cases would capitalisation assist in conveying information, and in the case of Nato, the original words are now totally inaccurate.
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  #35  
Old 06-23-2005, 10:43 PM
Napier Napier is offline
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Mrs. Napier, an avid and very serious genealogist, reports that older genealogical records generally use caps for the first letter of the first name and all letters of the last name. This actually sounds like a bad idea to me, because sometimes genealogical sluthing pays attention to tiny little details and clues. I'd think they'd care about the case of letters inside the last name, like MacArthur versus Macarthur.
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  #36  
Old 06-24-2005, 08:29 AM
Acsenray Acsenray is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by InvisibleWombat
That is an excellent article. Thank you for pointing me at it. After reading and considering it and your prior post, I'll concede most of the points you made. But not all.
Fair enough.
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