Archive | November, 2012

Capital Punishment

25 Nov

Okay, I admit it: I did some experimenting in college.

Here’s a bigger confession: I went to a small, private university associated with the Wesleyan church, and we weren’t allowed to do most things.  In fact, we signed a contract agreeing that we–and this may have been the actual wording–“wouldn’t do most things.”

So my experimenting looked a little different than the average co-ed (which, by the way, our dorms were not).  I don’t want my kids–or most human beings that I know–to understand how lame my school was, so I already have a plan for handling it.  When I reminisce aloud about my “wild college years,” I’ll be specifically remembering my many transgressions: that time I took a couple of apples from the cafeteria, even though we totally weren’t supposed to; that time I thought about skipping chapel, but didn’t, but really, really thought about it; that time when we threw a drugless, alcohol-less rave for my friend’s 21st birthday, complete with black lights (gasp!), glow sticks (what makes them glow?! Satan?!), and (here’s where, when I’m talking to my kids, I’ll explain that mommy has a past, and that she hopes to God that she made those mistakes so they wouldn’t have to) … dancing.  I won’t go completely into the details of how this hedonistic sin-fest ended, but I can tell you that it involved an RA practically kicking down a door to discover a group of students playing “Guess Who?” and the student body president fleeing the scene, shouting as he sprinted, “I WAS NEVER HERE!”

I’m sorry to admit, that … all actually happened.

So did I do some experimenting?  Sure.  And unlike the above, my experimenting was of a nature that I believe is typical of the experience of most college girls who consider themselves “literary.”

It’s taken me a few years to be able to own up to this, but here it goes: I went through a, uh, phase.  I was far from home, I was lonely, I was questioning everything I had been raised to believe; and sometimes late at night, in the dark, the only light coming from the “on” indicator on a candle warmer because we weren’t allowed to have open flames, I would put on an Indigo Girls album and  then … this is difficult to say … I would open my Xanga and write an entry without a single capital letter.

That’s right: there was a year or so there in college when I thought that the only way to write deep, important things was to do it without the use of capital letters.  The way I saw things, I could write, “I want to go to New York,” but why would I do THAT when I could instead say, “i want to go to new york.”  See the difference?  The person who wrote the former was probably some money-loving, soul-lacking rube who hated literature and having important thoughts, whereas the person who wrote the latter, by virtue of abandoning capital letters alone, was probably the deepest person you ever knew, who wore scarves EVEN WHEN IT WASN’T COLD OUT, and who, by virtue of abandoning capital letters alone, probably wanted to go to new york for really deep reasons, like for humanity, or whatever.

Thankfully, the phase ended, and all that remains is a love for e.e. cummings and a bad taste in my mouth whenever I see that someone has started another capital letter-less blog.  “Why do I keep eating rotten eggs while I read these?!” I ask myself, as I click through their lower-case posts.

I want you to be able to avoid my mistake, so to that end, here is a quick lesson on capital letters.

I’m not going to talk about the basics (like the first letter of a sentence); instead, I’m going to focus on the areas with which people (including me) tend to struggle.


Seasons (fall, winter, spring, summer) should be lower-case unless the season is part of a proper name.  Examples of this might include Spring Semester, Summer Olympics, or Winter Man, the “man whose first name is Winter.”

Just being attached to another word does not make a season proper, however.  The Summer Olympics are an official title for a real thing, so “summer” should be capitalized.  A “summer tan” is not an official thing, so it remains lower-case.

Family Relationships

Capitalize these when they are used as a proper name.  For example:

“Hello, Mother.”

“I think that Uncle Japheth is very creepy.”

Do not capitalize them if they are not used as someone’s proper name.  For example:

“I want to give this pie to my aunt.”

“Is that your mother?”

Job Titles

If the job title comes before the name, capitalize it.  If it comes after, do not.

For example, you would write that I am “Supreme Commander Grammarsaurus Rex” — note that “Supreme Commander” is capitalized.  However, if you turned the sentence around, you would have to say, “Grammarsaurus Rex is supreme commander.”  Either way, I’d like to say thank you, and also, feed me a grape.


Capitalize it when you’re referring to the planet.  Don’t capitalize it when you’re referring to the stuff on the ground.


These are similar to seasons.  Capitalize them when they are part of proper name (like a location in the country, such as the Southwest).  Do not capitalize them as general compass directions.  So if you were to write out directions for somebody, you would say, “Head south on Rt. 71.”  And even though I would be proud that you were grammatically correct, I would still write you back, saying, “Get a smart phone.”

Deities, Religious Figures and Texts, Etc.

Capitalize ’em all: God, Buddha, The Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Bible, Hermes, the Qur’an, the Book of Mormon, Michael Jordan (see: basketball), Kristen Wiig (see: life), etc.  The only instance where you should not capitalize is when referring to gods in general.

I’d say this is less of a grammatical rule and more of a “might as well play it safe” rule.

Regular Stuff  

Just to make sure I cover my bases: you should also capitalize the first letter of every sentence, the letter “I” when it is used as a pronoun, titles, and proper nouns (including names, places, organizations, and sometimes things).

So now you know how to capitalize properly.  You also know my college shame.

But I know your shame, too, oh you who went to real school.  I have visited your campuses.  I have stepped foot in your fraternities.  And when I say “stepped foot,” I mean that literally.  I mean that I stepped on your nasty floors, and they were so sticky that my foot came right out of my shoe.  I mean, just right out.

Say what you will about my lame college experience, but AT LEAST WE KEPT OUR SHOES ON.



Word of the Week: Farctate

15 Nov

Farctate (adj.): The state of being stuffed with food

Similar to: Stuffed, full, solid

Example: “Yikes, I’m stuffed!” exclaimed the farctate taxidermist, gravy dripping down his chin.  He caught the irony, but chose to ignore it.

Word of the Week: Timorous

6 Nov

Timorous (adj.): Full of fear; timid

Similar to: Apprehensive, hesitant, tremulous

Example: When I think that this election may never be over, and NPR will continue coverage infinitely instead of getting back to my regularly scheduled programs about how Chopin’s junior-high doodles can predict the likelihood that Norwegian post-poster-funk-music-inspired knittings will influence the debt crisis in Greece, then I feel timorous.

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