Mid-Atlantic English and a rare decision to go British

Mid-Atlantic English and a rare decision to go British March 9, 2010

Being a British blogger who has by God’s grace been given an audience, the majority of which lives in the USA,  I feel a bit like I’m floating in some kind of “mid-Atlantic” space.  What do I mean? Well, just as one example, I cannot easily speak about the vehicle I would call a lorry, HGV, or juggernaut. I would just get blank looks from my American friends.  Equally, though, I  find that I cannot use some of the American alternatives for that word with a straight face. I mean, a “tractor trailer” is a farm vehicle, there is nothing whatsoever “semi” about it, and as for an “eighteen wheeler,” who cares how many wheels it has? So, if I want to speak about such a vehicle, I have to find a “mid-Atlantic” alternative, a word that almost sounds acceptable in each culture. The best I have come up with is “a big truck” or just “truck.”

You would not believe the number of similar conversations I have had with my American blog editor, Annette. One unintended consequence of the recent redesign of this site has been endless discussions about the capitalization of titles. In the past the design simply turned all titles into “block capitals.” This was easy. But the designers told me it had to go. So we are back in the situation where I decide which words in a title are capitalized and which are not.

There are three options. Firstly, the most common practice in America is to capitalize most words in a title, but leave short words uncapitalized. The problem with this approach is it opens you up to many agonizing questions about precisely which words deserve that capital letter as the rulebook has a bunch of exceptions. As much as I enjoy being pedantic sometimes, I just don’t have time for that!

For a while I tried an almost unique “Warnock way” where I simply capitalized every letter of every word in the title. That was at least easy. But it looks ugly somehow.

By now I am sure that most of my readers will have died of boredom. But in a rare blow struck in favor of British usage (I long ago gave up British spellings, for example!) I am going to follow the BBC and switch to “sentence case” for titles.  Thus, a title will just look like a normal sentence in terms of its capitalization. I think it looks neater, and while it may take a while to get used to, at least I don’t have to have endless debates. Incidentally, the Chicago Manual of Style even notes this as a valid alternative, and I have seen it creeping into a few US websites, including  The Washington Post.

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