Capital vs. Capitol

I always thought “capital” means financial assets whereas “capitol” means the political seat of government, but now everywhere I’m seeing such cities referred to as “capital” - i.e., London is the “capital” of the UK. Has this changed?

If it is a city it is a capital, if the word refers to building(s) where laws are passed it is capitol.

Not that I ever remember this when using those words.

The O is the important part, remember that it refers to the Capitolium or Jupiter’s temple in Rome on Capitoline hill

building vs city

Capital vs. Capitol - Everything After Z by

The orginal Capitol was the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus in Rome, one of the oldest and most significant of classical Rome’s many temples. It was built on what was then known as the Saturnine or Tarqueian hill, but later the hill was called the Capitoline, after the temple. The precinct around the temple was known as the Area Capitolina. The temple was rebuilt several times, but finally fell into ruin in the fifth century, although the ruins survived (and were a signifcant Roman landmark) until the sixteenth century.

According to Wikipedia, it was Thomas Jefferson who decided that the US federal legislative building would be called the “Capitol”, although it’s not clear why he thought the name fitting. (The Capitol in Rome had no analogous function.) All the other legislative capitols in various American states and in a few other countries are so named in imitation of the one in Washington.

Capitol for (modern) government anything is US English usage, I suspect the (very few) countries that have adopted it either got it from there or else are using a different language. None of the rest of the Anglosphere uses it. Most of us have “Houses of Parliament” or just “Parliament Buildings”

Capital does mean financial assets, but the meaning of “city which acts as a country’s seat of government” is actually much more widely used. What did you call those cities when you were studying geography, if not capital? (ETA: ah. I’m guessing “capitol”? Soundalike and lookalike, but not meaningalike).

I associate the term “Capitol” with republican countries. In Canada, we use terms like “parliament building” or “Assembly”. Follows the British practice.

The French call theirs “Parliament” (broken up into Senate and Assembly, meeting as Congress when together.) The physical buildings are places (Palais, except Versailles which is the Château)

Capitol. E.g. Paris is the capitol of France.

Guess I was wrong.

Versailles isn’t a government building anymore, though. Château originally meant “castle”, but many of the places by that name aren’t fortresses (many of the Middle Ages castles are in fact called forteresse): like Versailles, these châteaus are their owners’ “big decorative house in the countryside”; the same people might have a palais which was somewhat smaller, even more decorative and in a city.

You are wrong. The city which serves as a seat of government is a capital city. The term capitol is only used when referring to a building.

But Capitol as a term for a government building is not especially common, The only ones I know of outside the US are in Spanish-speaking countries, like the Capitolio National in Bogota.

“Legislative building” is also pretty common (as you yourself probably know).

Yes, it is.

That should be “The physical buildings are palaces

Capital City, from the word for “head” = the city of the head of government. Capital ship = those at the head of the battle line; capital punishment = the highest punishment, which once meant losing your head.

Don’t take this wrong, but did you and others like you never see the word printed in a textbook? Or is this one of those things that in US schools are just taught verbally in class and never read/written?

Only in the way in which any government-owned building or public location can be. It is not one of the buildings used by any levels of the French government for their daily work, unless we’re going to consider all government-owned museums as goverment buildings.

The ‘o’ spelling doesn’t come from Thomas Jefferson. Its first known use in English was in 1699. It was used to refer to the ‘Capitol’ in Williamsburg, Virginia which was the building designed to house the government after it moved from Jamestown. It was spelled that way when the House of Burgesses commissioned the building.

Why they used the ‘o’ spelling is lost in time. It might have simply been that spelling norms weren’t quite as rigid back then. William Randolph was the clerk of the House of Burgesses at the time and we know that a few of his other spellings were slightly unconventional (He frequently bounces between Burgeses and Burgesses as an example. He also used a c with a tilde over it to make the sound of ‘sh’ in Consideration-so it looked like Consideracon.) The ‘Capitol’ in Washington DC was named after the Virginia ‘Capitol’ in Williamsburg.

Literally, related or belonging to the head, but even in Latin capitalis typically meant relating to life/by means which life is endangered, as in capital punishment and capital crimes; and that is at the head or first in something, pre-eminent, distinguished, as in a capital writer or a capital joke.

Even so, I think it was a capitol idea!

Are you saying it had nothing to do with the Temple of Jupiter?

No, I’m saying that we don’t actually know. ‘Capitol’ had been used previous to 1699 to refer to essentially fortresses on hills. It’s possible that the House in 1699 thought of this new building as a fortress, thus linking it to the Capitolium. It’s possible that they thought of the word similarly to how we do and just got it confused. It’s also possible that someone there was a Roman history buff and thought the building should be named directly for the Capitolium. We know that they do use the indefinite article ‘a’ in front of capitol, implying more than one. So they say in 1701 ‘a Capitol’ but whether they mean this in reference to a fortress or a seat of government, we don’t really know. Personally, I think they used an alternate spelling of ‘capital,’ it stuck because it was in statute and later people tried to tie it to the Temple, but that’s purely my own conjecture.