Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

The C is up because Christmas is a proper noun, but the M is up only because it's at the beginning of a line -- there's no principle by which every word in a holiday greeting is capitalized. "Merry Christmas," but "I wish you a merry Christmas." And although New Year's Day and New Year's Eve are up, it's the new year, as in "Happy new year" or "I wish you a happy new year."


Unknown said...

Thank you. And in the same vein, "happy birthday" is all down. I don't know why so many people think that should be capitalized.

mupu@mupu.com said...

The problem is limited, almost entirely, to nouns. Maybe it's a holdover from the German influence on our language. It frequently shows up in Old English.

People have told me that I should capitalize any occurrence of titles and offices, such as "bishop" and "president" -- as an indication of respect, they say. There's so much of this in amateur writing, and there's no changing their minds on the subject. Some insist that I leave a word capitalized "because it's important." Ergo, Tight Writing Must Be In Title Case.

One of the few memorable exchanges from National Treasure put this well. The villain Ian, upon realizing that a key word in a riddle was referencing a person, said, "Gentlemen, why is this word capitalized?" One of his buffoons guessed, "Because it's important?" Ian replied, "No, because it's a name."

Anonymous said...

I totally concur with Mupu's point about a pervading Germanic sentiment in American English.

I also would venture that some of this business stems from the approach graphic designers and artists take to type. They tend to perceive it as a mutable substance on which they may innovate.

Tragically, for all parties involved, this perception isn't commonly shared by editors. The fur will fly.

More than all of this, I feel that Some People Is Confused about what constitutes a proper title. Okay, a lot of people. If it's on the front of a book, it must be a title! If it's on the front of a card, same thing, right?!

JD (The Engine Room) said...

The OED also allows New Year's.

On our magazine, we use lower case for all job titles except senior government positions... go figure.

Bill said...

New Year's, yes (short for New Year's Day). But "the New Year" should be "the new year."

Unknown said...

I always thought it was because Merry Christmas is seen as in some respects akin to direct speech. Also there is the fact that there is the feeling that Merry Christmas is one phrase. And then there is the idea that New Year is a specific name, just like New Year's Day.

Anonymous said...

It can be merry Christmas, or Merry Christmas, merry christmas, Merry christmas, merry Xmas, Merry Xmas, merry xmas, or marry Crissmiss, and even Mary crissmiss. The only thing I really care about is what Santa Claus is gonna leave me.

Happy Birthday Jesus