Friday, June 10, 2005

Respect the lower case

When a person or some other entity makes a discovery, starts a group or following, or even produces a literary work, a word is sometimes created. Usually the word is named after the creator, and much more often than not, the word is capitalized. This capitalization distinguishes the word from standard words. Over time, as the word gains acceptance by society and becomes commonplace, it can lose its standing as a proper word. It sheds its capitalization, truly liberating itself from its social class.

The English language is littered with many newly created words. An everyday word that has yet to be promoted is Realtor. This is not a standard word, despite its frequent use. It is a proper noun, thus it would be grammatically incorrect to use it in a non-capitalized form. Other words that are still awaiting their emancipation include Jacobian, Gaussian, Keynesian, and Faustian.

Then, there are some words that make up the bourgeois. These are the words that are really flirting with the final promotion to total acceptance. These words include Johnathan Swift's creations, Brobdingnagian and Lilliputian. They exist in both lower and upper case states. Society has not yet made up its mind on them. Others, such as Boolean, Diophantine, and Draconian, also fall into this same category. There are clearly sub-classes in this class of words. It could be argued that Draconian is seen without the capitalization much more often than Boolean, which is a relative newcomer to this social status.

Finally, there are the elite. These are the noble words that command the most respect and have gained the most acceptance by society. They announce their status through their lack of capitalization. Some of these words are pasteurize, warfarin (named after the institute that patented it), newton, and algorithm (coming from the bastardization of the Arabic mathematician's name).

Words live in a world where being prominent is a sign of social rejection. In our world, prominence is welcomed by society and distinguishes the powerful individuals from the commonfolk. But, in the end, the story is the same. The ones that are unlike the rest are looked upon differently. Perhaps, Webster needs to initiate an affirmative action program to help the Hamiltonians, Euclideans, and Reaganomics of the world.


Anonymous said...

As an abecedarian myself, I thought your post was interesting. One point of confusion, however, is your statement that "Words live in a world where being prominent is a sign of social rejection." Yet in your examples, as words become more prominent and commonplace, and lose their capitalization, you refer to them as "elite."

Anonymous said...

I need you to be elite on Tuesday Jim.

Brute Force said...

Jim, the term elite is in the perspective of the word itself. If you were the word, "pasteurize," you'd be looking down upon your fellow word, "Hamiltonian." Why? Because the higher-ups (human society) haven't yet accepted it fully. Everything talked about is from the word's perspective, not ours.

Anonymous said...

Aaah, got it. I think it's a pretty cool perspective--good post for out-of-the-circle thinking. It's kinda like Flatland, where the class system is based on the number of sides a polygon has (so the closer you are to a circle, the more noble you are; the triangles are uncouth, etc.)