16 May 2008

Title Case: Another Reason the Makers of MS Word Will Be Damned for Eternity

Yesterday I discussed how the “smart quotes” function of Microsoft Word isn't quite as smart as it's made out to be. Which is to say, relying on it will, under particular circumstances, produce the wrong results for a writer. But at least that function tries to approximate the proper use of quotation marks and apostrophes.

"Title Case" doesn't even try. This command is found under "Format" and "Change Case...," at least in my version of MS Word. It will reformat the text you've highlighted so that each word starts with a capital letter and the rest of the letters are in lowercase.

The name "Title Case" implies this is how titles should be formatted. That Is An Error Which A Smart Writer Or Typesetter Tries To Avoid.

There are rules about which words to capitalize in a title. Unfortunately, there are multiple sets of rules, not all agreeing exactly. And the style for newspaper headlines is, once again, slightly different from the style used in book publishing.

Nevertheless, there are rules, which means that MS Word's programmers could have written algorithms to make "Title Case" accurate, or at least more so. Allen Wyatt's Word Tips provides the recipe for a macro that people can apply, but have to complete on their own. Ardamis.com has provided something even better, but only for WordPress blogs.

The Microsoft programmers could also have chosen another name for that function, like "Initial Caps." But no. So now, because of the company's dominant market share, we have lots of people, especially businesspeople, believing their computers are right to Capitalize Every Word In A Title Or Heading.

Grumble, grumble, grumble.


MotherReader said...

Thanks for the link to the rules. I'm guilty of this on occasion - especially in the heading of my blog posts where I go between capitalizing everything and doing it the, you know, right way.

Nathan said...

I'm not totally sure why, but I've been convinced that every word in a song title should be capitalized. I could very easily be wrong about that, though.

J. L. Bell said...

The algorithm’s gotten to you, too!

Liner notes, song lyrics on sleeves, and other music packaging is notorious for being slapped together without much regard for punctuation. I wouldn’t be surprised if lots of song titles are now printed in “Title Case” (or all-capitals, which avoids the issue).

But that wasn’t always the way, as older sheet music, album covers, and programs show. Even now, there are some sites trying to hold the line for song titles. We don’t need to go down the road to “Night And Day” and “In The Mood”!

(I guess I should acknowledge that some reference authorities, such as the APA style guide and cataloguing-in-publication data, duck the challenge of capital letters in titles. They start titles with a capital letter and use capitals for proper nouns, but not on other significant words. All the official webpages I’ve seen about this seem mildly embarrassed by the practice, insisting it applies only to cataloguing.)