Sunday, July 22, 2007

It's Important to Capitalize in Astronomy

A small pet peeve of mine is capitalization. Many people fail to realize that astronomical objects such as the Earth or Sun should have their first letter capitalized. The most plain and obvious reason is that both of those words are proper nouns, and proper nouns should be capitalized because they can be seen as either a place or a thing.

I understand it is fairly simple to write something like, "The sun is at the center of the solar system." But I just feel those are large errors to commit when writing. Again, both the Sun and Solar System are proper nouns so they should automatically be capitalized.

The International Astronomical Union (IAU), which is the official authority on naming celestial things, the structure of astronomical papers, and astronomical grammar, does not have the authority to fully demand capitalization all the time. Different countries have different rules in remarks to their grammar. The IAU Style Manual states, "The use of capitals for the initial letters of words is much more common in English (and German) than in French," but they do recommend that astronomical objects should be capitalized in both languages.

This is what the IAU recommends in reference to astronomy capitalization, "The initial letter of a word should be typed or printed as a capital in the following cases...individual astronomical objects (such as Earth, the Solar System, Orion, the Crab Nebula, Galactic Centre)...[and] names of individual objects or instruments (Voyager 2)."

I just wanted to address this because it is important to capitalize the Andromeda Galaxy just as its important to capitalize the White House. I am not going to end on a note saying thay, "To keep astronomy sacred and precious we must first correct our grammar." All that I am going to say is just capitalize those astronomical objects because all things in astronomy are wonders, are proper, and are worth the extra effort to be capitalized.

Afterthoughts:

  • Is it just me, or did I say 'astronomical objects' a lot?

  • I noticed that major writing applications such as Word, Open Office, and other online spell-check features do not automatically capitalize astronomical objects.

  • I recently discussed astronomical capitalization with Helium.com and since then, they have changed most of their space-related articles so words like the Sun and Solar System are capitalized.

  • The IAU does not say anything about capitalizing astronomical objects that are plural

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Links:

IAU Recommendation of Spelling (Online)
IAU Full Recommendation of Capitalization (In Print)

30 comments:

AnAngelofMidnite said...

I am quite new to Astronomy but I am a stickler for correct grammar. Thank you for the heads-up.

Astroversity said...

Thank you Anangelofmidnite, I know grammar and punctuation is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of astronomy, but I just wanted to help shed a little light on the deeper mechanics of astronomy.

zipper said...

Do you have any thoughts on capitalizing the word "universe" when referring to *the* Universe?

Astroversity said...

Good question Zipper. The word "Universe" is actually something I'm quite picky about spelling. The IAU is very vague when it comes to plurl and 'non-individual' astronomical objects.

I personally always capitalize the word Universe because it refers to a proper place. Everything that is everything takes place in, or exists in the Universe.

And besides, spelling the Universe with a capital 'U' just seems right to me :).

astropixie said...

while i appreciate the use of proper punctuation... i just don't care when writing informally. i rarely capitalize anything and i use ellipses (...) too much. oh well... as long as people can understand me i think it's alright!

Astroversity said...

Astropixie, its good that you have your own writing style. If people feel more comfortable just writing freely without any grammatical constraints, then thats perfectly fine with me.

Capitalization for me is just something that seems to look right.

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Anonymous said...

I agree with Astroversity - I capitalize the word "Universe" because it's the proper name of a place. It may not be the only Universe anymore now that theories of a Multiverse exist, so if you're speaking about many universes, I don't believe you'd capitalize it when it's plural. If it's preceded by the word "the", then it deserves to be capitalized because you're talking about the place where everything is found, from astronomical wonders to spam advertising about Viagra (which BTW also gets a capital for being a brand name, while spam, originally a brand name, no longer gets one when it refers to junk e-mail).

Maybe in one of the other universes spam doesn't exist. What a great place that would be to live. (sigh)

I still like the other kind of Spam*. A universe without it would only be that much emptier.

*Spam is a trademark for Hormel's canned meat product. All rights reserved.

Alex Chen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex Chen said...

I think a lot of people confuse "star system" with "Solar System." The Solar System is the name of the star system where we live.

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Michelle Brooks said...

I thought you might find this interesting...
http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/capitals.htm
I have been struggling with this question for days now!

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