Saturday, November 6, 2010

Capitalization quiz

In preparation for the series of quizzes, I've revisited the Capitalization quiz and information link. I can't seem to get my mind around this rule.

The rule states:

We capitalize names of courses: Economics, Biology 101. (However, we would write: "I'm taking courses in biology and earth science this summer.")

In number nine of the quiz, this rule does not apply to "physics course." I was wondering why physics is not capitalized?

9. Didwell somehow managed to get an A in his physics course, but he failed History 104.

Would you capitalize physics if you dropped the word course?

"Didwell somehow managed to get an A in Physics, but he failed History 104."

Also, in number fifteen the word economics is not capitalized. What is the rule here?

15. Tashonda earned a master's degree in business before she went on for a Ph.D. in economics.


Chad said...

Good questions, Cindy. I guess the rule to follow here is that the "title" of a course should be capitalized. Other than that, it's all lowercase. So, we'd say, "I aced Business 299" but not "I got a degree in business." In the latter sense, "business" just refers generally to a field and not the specific title of a specific course.

Pat said...

The rule being applied here is that governing proper nouns. "Business 299" is regarded as a proper noun because it is the name of a course; for that reason, the p in "Physics 299" would likewise be capitalized.

However, physics, economics, business, history, math, vocational education, medicine, astronomy, and so forth would all be lowercase: they are common nouns that denote general fields of study. In your revised Didwell sentence, Cindy, physics would still not require a capital: "Didwell somehow managed to get an A in physics."

Here's another example of capitalization:

To learn how to read a book properly, I read How to Read a Book.

We have the same words: how, to, read, a, and book. However, in one instance, they are all lowercase, and in the other, three of them have initial caps. The rule requiring capitalization in this instance is that governing the names--or titles--of books. Einsohn discusses this in "Titles of Works," starting on page 160.

And another:

I went to Disneyland with my cousin, my brother, Uncle Dave, and Mom.

The common nouns are cousin and brother; Mom is a kinship name that is being used in place of the woman's name, so it requires an initial cap. A capital is also used when a kinship name is used in combination with a proper noun, as in Uncle Dave.

With professional titles, capitals are used if they immediately precede names: Father Henry, Professor Stewart, Chancellor Hinshaw, and so forth. However, we say the father, the professor, and the chancellor.

By the way, regarding back East, which came up in class when we were discussing the twelve sentences: I spoke to the head of my office, and he agreed with me, and for the reason I gave you. Our house style would therefore support using a capital; however, as I also said, I believe this is a gray area governed by preference.

With regard to other things that may be a matter of house preference, please note what Einsohn says about up and down styles on page 151. Also take note of what she says on page 152: "Most authors do not have strong opinions about capitalization; for others, however, capitalization is not merely a matter of typography [or convention] but an issue of according or denying status to a term." In academic and political contexts, the enforcement of status can supersede what is standard practice elsewhere; these are exceptional cases, of course.

Also, please don't forget to consult the Excel chart I made when we were talking about capitalization. And remember that bachelor's degree, master's degree, and doctorate are lowercase, but Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts/Science, and Doctor of Philosophy all have initial caps.

Cindy said...

Hi Pat,
I greatly appreciate your thorough response.

Thank you Chad!

Pat said...

My pleasure, Cindy.

Just now, I decided to type back East in Google's search engine. There were many results, among them these two: ‘Back East’ not just matter of geography and an entry in The Free Dictionary.