Posted by: Jack Henry | August 14, 2013

Editor’s Corner: Capitalization Exceptions

To clarify the information from yesterday’s e-mail on capitalization, I have to specify that these rules are the generally accepted, understood standards for American English. As several of you mentioned, we capitalize field names, column names, and all sorts of things in our system documentation. Those rules are specific to each business and product. The information I’m providing is for the outside world. General rules for e-mail to your manager, letters to your great aunt Tilly, greeting cards for your best friends, that novel you’re writing, etc. I apologize for any unintended confusion.

Now for the intended confusion! Here are a few things that you’ll just have to memorize, since they break the standard rules of capitalization.

Ground Zero

1. When speaking of ground zero as “the point on the earth’s surface directly above or below an exploding nuclear bomb,” the term is lowercase. When referring to the footprint of the World Trade Center towers in New York, the term is capitalized as Ground Zero. The rationale is that that is now the name (proper noun) of that location.



Here’s another word that is sometimes a common noun and sometimes a proper noun. If you are talking about a depression in the surface of something, mental illness, or a general economic depression, the term is lowercase. When speaking of the Great Depression, it is capitalized because it refers to a specific historical period.


The names of planets are capitalized: Mars, Jupiter, Mercury, Earth, the former planet known as Pluto. When talking about dirt, however, earth is lowercase. It is also lowercase when speaking about it in a “general” way, such as “we wish for peace on earth.” (This is where the official grammarians lose me. Why is that any more or less “general” than a list of planets?) Oh well, their wish is my command.

Kara Church

Senior Technical Editor

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