Tina K. Russell

August 5, 2008

Please, please don’t overdo it

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Tina Russell @ 2:47 pm

This is why I hate it when William Safire goes on vacation:

On Language – Me, Myself and I – NYTimes.com
So what effect has capitalizing “I” but not “you” — or any other pronoun — had on English speakers? It’s impossible to know, but perhaps our individualistic, workaholic society would be more rooted in community and quality and less focused on money and success if we each thought of ourselves as a small “i” with a sweet little dot. There have, of course, been plenty of rich and dominant cultures throughout history that have gotten by just fine without capitalizing the first-person pronoun or ever writing it down at all. There have also been cultures that committed atrocities even while capitalizing “you.”

Still, there seems to be something to it all. Modern e-mail culture has shown that many English speakers feel perfectly comfortable dismissing all uses of capitalization — and even correct spelling, for that matter. But take this a step further: i suggest that You try, as an experiment, to capitalize those whom You address while leaving yourselves in the lowercase. It may be a humbling experience. It was for me.

It’s a very good and informative article; it’s also full of the cutesy, candy-coated turns of phrase that I cannot stand to read in The New York Times. They make me retch precisely because I imagine how proud the author must have been with them, which makes me cold with fear that such bombast may infect my writing, if it hasn’t already.

I once read a book on writing that recommended that, if you’re afraid to pull a piece of writing from your larger work because you’re too proud of what’s in there, stick it in a file called “cuts” and leave it alone. That way, you’ll always be able to go back to it should you need it; though, he found, he never did. (The book is The Playwright’s Guidebook, by Stuart Spencer. I recommend it.)

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