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50006Re: [Czechlist] Capitalization (was: Here at the Department we...)

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  • James Kirchner
    Sep 28, 2012
      On Sep 28, 2012, at 5:44 AM, Melvyn wrote:

      > I was pleased to find an American source that broadly supported my (British) view. A hands-on source like that could be more indicative of everyday usage than some remote ivory-tower authority. I would not expect an obscure community college to dazzle us with style, but I would expect it to be fairly accurate about everyday usage at said obscure community college and similar establishments.

      There's no unity at similar establishments regarding usage. I work at a similar establishment, and one prof (like me) will let students use "they" and "their" as singular generic pronouns because they're certainly more graceful than "he/she", "s/he" or "his/her", while other profs flip out over that usage and insist on the unwieldy slashed forms. When I pointed out to one of them that the plural pronouns have historical precedent in this usage and that they are largely accepted in British publishing now, he snapped, "THEY'RE IDIOTS!"

      > BTW a translator colleague once told me he deliberately avoids having a slickly professional presence online. Said his clients respond more to the human touch. I would bear this kind of thing in mind too.

      I actually know a very good web designer whose own website is the trashiest thing imaginable. She says it puts her right at the top of the search engine rankings, and that clients who see her samples don't care about her own site. I've also read that matchmaking sites do better if they look cheesy. Again, people think there are humans behind the site.

      Nonetheless, if I see an agency site that is not well designed or is not at least an attractive, competently filled-in template, I tend to avoid the agency, thinking their standards are low in other matters also.

      > So I don't necessarily jump every time the client tells me to,
      > With regard to capitalization in contracts etc I normally do. If the client asks me to, say, capitalize the key defined terms in an insurance policy then my approach is basically that described by Matej. Use of capitals outside this very specific domain is another matter, but I have never come up against problems with cap-happy lawyers in other contexts.

      So far, no legal client has ever asked me to capitalize the key terms, and no legal client has ever complained when I haven't done so. However, they do send me more documents to translate. As an attorney told me yesterday, "You can't go wrong using standard English rules in a legal document."

      >> In the manuals I used as a magazine editor, the rule was that in titles you
      > capitalize all words of four letters or longer, plus all forms of "have" and
      > "be".
      > But there are so many alternatives in the various manuals. Yes, I know, you should choose your manual and then stick to it. Sounds fine in theory.

      This is not the way we did it at the communications companies. We kept about five style manuals in the drawer, and then we would do things the way we wanted to. If the exec, lawyer or writer complained, we'd pull out the style guide that supported what we wanted to do, take it to the person and point out that "the style guide" calls for our way of doing it. The people would immediately cave in, and nobody ever seemed to notice we were bringing them different style manuals in different situations.

      >>> Should long prepositions be capitalized? How
      > long does a preposition have to be before it is a long preposition? Etc.
      >> Four letters. They just have to look in the manual.
      > NIVA prefers to capitalize prepositions of five characters or more.

      I have never heard of NIVA, and a lot of web searching has not yielded any explanation of what it is or what its full name is. Do you know?

      > I don't know any Americans who are sycophantic towards the British, but I do know Americans who are very much on their guard against sycophancy towards the British, which often comes over as the reverse side of the same coin. :-)

      I think you have to have lived here to notice it. But it's definitely real, particularly among both high- and low-class people who want to appear "elite" or "intelligent". It even gets into cartoon shows. Once on "King of the Hill" a mother decided it was time for her 12-year-old son to start watching British situation comedies on public TV. She makes him sit down and says, "Now, this humor is a little more sophisticated than ours, so you may not appreciate it right away, but if you keep watching, you'll start to understand it" (or something to that effect). The kid watches this screwball English comedy for a while with a deadpan expression and then says, "Mom, that man's wearing a dress." The mother tells him to be quiet and keep watching. The kid makes a sick face.

      >> After all, the
      > Economist isn't always well written.
      > I am always amused by the way almost every real-world reference in the Economist is automatically followed by a brief explanatory clause, e.g. ...the Beatles, a 1960s rock group. For a long time I thought these helpful notes were an attempt at humour.

      I doubt it. You can't ever assume any knowledge of anything in anybody. More than 10 years ago, a man in his early 20s asked my brother if it was true that Paul McCartney had been in a band before Wings.

      Many of my American students born and raised around Detroit didn't know where Ontario was. If you go downtown and look across the straits, you see Ontario vividly on the other side just two miles away. So most of these people had never lived more than a 30-minute drive from Ontario, but they didn't know where it was. Some of them had even been to Ontario many times and didn't know where it was!

      And: A company where I worked got a new receptionist. Her boss gave her some envelopes and self-adhesive address labels, and asked the young lady to stick the labels to the envelopes. At lunch time she began complaining that her tongue hurt.

      Never assume anyone knows anything.


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