Capital Ideas in the University

Having let off steam about the misuse of the apostrophe yesterday, let me just point to one other stylistic habit that really annoys me. It is the practice of using capital letters at the beginning of words where no capitalisation is called for. Universities are particularly guilty of this practice, with a near-universal habit of capitalising the word ‘university’, for no good reason at all. Here’s an extract from one English university’s website:

‘We have always been pioneering in our course provision, being the first British University to offer a Peace Studies degree and the first University outside London to offer part-time degree courses’.

There is no reason to capitalise ‘university’, nor indeed for that matter ‘peace studies’. Unfortunately this kind of thing is common throughout the higher education system – though here’s one that gets it right. But in one report from another university I read recently, the following were all capitalised: ‘university’, ‘department’, ‘subject’, ‘student’, ‘lecturer’, ‘building’, ‘examination’, ‘procedure’. Oh dear.

For readers who may not be clear about where it is appropriate to use capitalisation, and where it is not, this guide published by Purdue University is useful.

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3 Comments on “Capital Ideas in the University”

  1. cormac Says:

    Is there a rule on this? I’ve often wondered. I tend to write Physics Department, but I don’t know why.
    I feel for German writers, who have to use capitals for every noun. The only capitals I like are those of Maeve Binchy – the Long Walk at Heathrow airport and the Great Dispute in the family….

  2. no-name Says:

    “I feel for German writers, who have to use capitals for every noun.”

    But why? It’s easy and I notice far fewer mistakes on German notices, etc., than on English ones…

  3. kevin denny Says:

    My Pet Peeve is the inappropriate or gratuitous use of “(sic)” which is increasingly used as a rather petty dig at something the writer dislikes or disagrees with. Harrumph.

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