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A look at the Ubiquitous Habit of capitalizing letters to make A Point

Capitalization, but Make It Trendy. Capitalization, but Make It Trendy. Image: vicky leta / mashable By Nicole Gallucci2019-06-18 16:18:07 UTC

In the era of text messaging, tweeting, and digital communication, capitalization can be a Real Bitch.

From a young age, we're trained to capitalize the first letter of defined terms, the beginning of sentences, and proper nouns — the names of people and any specific places or things. But over the past few years an increasing number of Extremely Online individuals have invented a series of new capitalization uses that don’t play by the rules set out by English teachers and style guides. 

Nowadays, there's the common practice of typing a word in all caps to indicate SCREAMING, the use of aLteRnAtInG cApS (often associated with SpongeBob memes) to convey mockery, or a complete lack of capitalization, which can be done purposefully to come across as extremely chill, or simply because one can't be bothered to occasionally reach for the Shift key.

But there's another trend I've seen rampantly recurring, in which more and more people intentionally capitalize the first letter of select words to make them stand out, Like So. It's Everywhere. And I want to know Why?

At some point in time capitalizing words Like This became an accepted practice, a secret code we all silently agreed to start using. But how exactly did it become a norm, and what compels so many people to employ the technique?

As you might logically assume, one of the main reasons people engage in rogue capitalization is to convey emphasis. Expert linguists expanded upon Emphatic Capitalization in a 2018 article by Mashable's Rachel Thompson, but after talking to a selection of self-proclaimed Atypical Capitalizers, I learned there are a variety of other reasons why people partake in the trend.

The endless Creativity Competition

It seems part of The Capitalization Appeal stems from the sheer competitive nature of social media. Every day people log online to share photographs, thoughts, takes, and feelings for the purpose of connecting with one another. But because all of that content can be validated through likes, favorites, or retweets, oftentimes people aren't simply trying to share pieces of themselves. Instead, they're trying make those pieces some of the funniest, deepest, or most groundbreaking content.

Occasionally, capitalized words in texts or tweets not only highlight an original idea, but give off an extra sense of pride one has in that idea. For instance, after Mashable's newsroom recently learned of Kraft sticking dressing in a tube and rebranding it as Salad Frosting, my editor asked us via Slack which food we'd each like to see served in a tube. One colleague replied, "hmmm maybe cookie dough," to which another chimed in to say, "that's already in Tube Form." When questioned why they chose to spring for the capital letters in that instance, they said they often partake in the trend "to make something sound more ironically official."

The unnecessary caps act as an indicator of sorts. Not only do they alert readers that the altered text is the most important part of a thought, but also that the writer has a certain sense of humor. I witnessed this humor firsthand when tweeting to ask my followers if anyone participated in Acts Of Rebellious Capitalization. Every single Extremely Self-Aware person who replied made sure to lightheartedly own their capitalization habit in their responses, fully embracing the technique as part of their personality.

A look at the Ubiquitous Habit of capitalizing letters to make A Point

Image: mashable composite

In some extreme cases, people follow capped words with a trademark symbol to jokingly claim ownership of a phrase in a more official way.

"When I use the trademark symbol in conversation, I am somewhat using it for emphasis, but also as a mode of distinction, if that makes sense. Like, This Is Important but This Is Important, Almost Moreso™," Emerson Schoenike, an 18-year-old who describes venturing outside formal capitalization style as their "Brand," explained in a message on Twitter.

Andrea Butler, 25, agrees that capitalizing certain words has a lot to do with personal branding. "For example, I wrote 'a fellow Very Feminist friend' in an Instagram caption the other day, because being Very Feminist is part of my (and my friend's) brand," she shared in a Mashable interview. Butler also thinks that capitalization can "be a way to poke fun at things that aren’t very serious but people make serious."

"If I said I have a Big Date tonight (especially if I included the trademark symbol,) that would mean I am going on a date which I know should be considered a big deal," Butler says, "but by writing it as a proper noun I am being ironic." 

In a sense, the ™ symbol works to make certain words honorary proper nouns, like the linguistics version of Gretchen Wieners trying to make Fetch⁽™⁾ a thing in Mean Girls.

The Cultural Influence on caps

While personal branding can play a role in the decision to overdo it with uppercase letters, certain cultural aspects and celebrity figures also influence the trend.

Steve Carley, 28, who occasionally capitalizes words "that indicate a Thing in order to emphasize the importance of that Thing," told Mashable he picked up the habit from none other than Stephen King. Carley noted that the author's been referring to his dog as "Molly, the Thing of Evil" on Twitter since 2015.

One of King's least favorite Twitter users, Donald Trump, also loves to capitalize words in tweets — though his capitalizations can often come across as random and nonsensical.

Whether it's Fake News Media, Enemy of the People, Country, Treason, Obstruction and Collusion, or the many other words he unnecessarily capitalizes without explanation, his bad habit could certainly be inspiring someone to switch up their caps style.

Trump [logging on]: time to randomly capitalize some words

— Jon Christian (@Jon_Christian) June 9, 2019

The trend has been around long before Trump took office, though, and Schoenike thinks that the recent rise might also have something to do with "the increasing amount of Gen Zs becoming active online."

Schoenike, who sees the style a lot on Tumblr, explained that their generation has grown up in the era of peak internet lingo, which means they're used to constantly code switching and are eager to hop on board with different typing styles.

It's not always Directly Our Fault

In some cases, people aren't fully responsible for  capitalizing mid-sentence. Several people with iOS devices, for example, have noticed that random words automatically capitalize when they type. You can disable the auto-caps feature through Settings on your iPhone, but oftentimes people contribute to the trend by leaving the capitalized words be.

I only capitalize defined terms, proper nouns, start of sentences, and whatever iOS decides — with no apparent rhyme or reason — to capitalize.

— f wisen (@foswi) June 5, 2019

And of course there's always the possibility that Twitter users are developing shared communication norms as a result of constantly consuming each other's typing habits. "I think the trend is becoming popular because like any online trend, you see someone do it and think it’s clever so you pick up on it," Butler says, comparing it to the popular trend of people using the tilde in conversation years ago.

In a 2016 piece for Slate, Katy Waldman also noted that the trend may have been sparked by the fact that "Twitter does not allow users to type in boldface or italics." The same goes for texting.

Nicole Moriarty, 33, first started using this capitalization style when she became a business owner and had to communicate with her employees via text. "It’s hard to make sure the right tone is coming across via text, but I wanted them to respond [so] I would capitalize words of import and then throw some emojis on there to be like, 'This [is] Really important that you answer But I’m not mad I literally Just need an answer.'" 

While there are text converters such as Twitalics that generate bold or italicized fonts, it takes quite a bit of effort, unlike capitalization. "I think the trend will continue because it's easier to capitalize something than it is to underline or italicize it when you’re texting," Moriarty says.

The Good and The Bad

The uninhibited capitalization, if done skillfully, can be quite charming, but the habit also has the potential to be Incredibly Irritating at times. 

anyone else get annoyed when people randomly capitalize things Like This for no Reason.

— Alex Ⓥ🌙 (@ADHDdeeRamone) June 9, 2019

I enjoy when the capitalizations are creative, such as  made up positions like "Senior Crush Correspondent™" or ideal franchises like the "Krasinski Cinematic Universe." I'm even a sucker for the occasional parody of "Big Dick Energy." But for some reason whenever I see people type "Very Bad," "Very Good," or the worst offense, "V Bad," I find the style absolutely hideous. For Carley, who also has a love/hate relationship with the trend, the breaking point comes whenever he sees someone type, "I did a Thing."

"It's tough, because it really is a cheesy thing to do in 2019, but at the same time the fact that it's almost universally easy to understand the intent is what makes it fun to do," Carley says.

Moriarty says she's a fan of the trend because she has attention deficit disorder and finds it helpful when people point her to what she's supposed to be focusing on. Butler thinks the capitalizations are amusing, but "like any internet trend it can be irritating when used in excess."

When it comes to Emphatic Capitalization, excess could mean overuse or Capitalizing Every Word As Though You're Writing A ClickHole Headline, which comes across as Extra Annoying to some.

I Don't Understand People Who Write Like This. Why The Fuck Do You Capitalize Every Word's First Alphabet It's Fucking Distracting.

— Jafri (@SmaackJaw) June 15, 2019

Why Do Some People Capitalize Every Word Like This When They Post On Social Media? Does Anyone Have The Answer? Also Why Does It Bother Me So Much?

— Chris (@CSanders_20) June 11, 2019

However, as Luce Carter, a software developer for Dunnhumby in the UK, brought up, it's important to capitalize the first letter of words in hashtags to make them more accessible.

"Screen readers struggle to read hashtags when it is all lowercase as it doesn’t have the spaces to distinguish between the words. If you capitalize each letter in the hashtag then it does a much better job," she explained. 

Capitalization has truly come a long way.

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