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The Lord's pronouns

A reader who has been made editor of the religion section of her paper—she will need your prayers—wonders about the proprieties of capitalizing pronouns referring to the deity. She has read my previous post “God’s pronouns” and understands that Chicago and AP lowercase those pronouns, but she wonders whether exceptions can be made for columns and op-ed essays.

The short answer: Sure, she can. She’s the editor.

A longer one: There was no such capitalization in either the Hebrew Scriptures or the Greek New Testament, both of which were written in capitals. And there was, I now discover, no such capitalization in the Geneva, Douay-Rheims, and King James Bibles of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries—a time when capitalization was rife.*

Capitalizing the pronouns as a mark of respect is common in devotional literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, such as hymns, and remains common in evangelical circles. But it is purely a matter of taste and personal preference. An ardent believer may feel that the capital letters reinforce his piety, but preferring them to be lowercase does not make The Chicago Manual of Style an agent of the Evil One.

The editor of religious articles should follow the newspaper’s established style for ordinary articles, which would in most cases lowercase pronouns referring to God, but it would be perfectly acceptable to allow the practice in a personal essay, where more editorial latitude is given generally.

It might be useful to draft a stock answer for readers who are agitated by the apparent inconsistency.

 

 

*This may astonish readers who assume that the capitalization was always there. The widespread phenomenon that what one encountered as a child is ancient practice and that anything different is a dangerous innovation turns up often in ecclesiastical circles. Vide the members of the congregation who prefer the “old” hymns, the ones written in the nineteenth century, to newfangled plainchant.

 

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 8:48 AM | | Comments (11)
        

Comments

In proper 18th-century style you capitalize not only pronouns but also nouns: "our Authour", or even "our AUTHOUR" [sic].

Re: "There was no such capitalization in either the Hebrew Scriptures or the Greek New Testament, both of which were written in capitals."
Mmmmm...well, the New Testament (aka Greek Scripture) is written in Koine Greek (common use as opposed to Classical), which isn't written in capitals. BUT that also means pronouns (referring to the Deity or otherwise) are not capitalized. (The Septuagint is the ancient Greek translation of Hebrew Scripture (Old Testament) , also in a form of Koine which is similar to that used for the NT/GS.)

Liked your blog a lot. Thanks!

And as far as I'm aware there were no capitals in existence in Hebrew (and Aramaic) when the OT/Tanakh was first written down, any more than there are today.

Hello, John! I notice that you did choose to capitalize the "Evil One." Should we be reading anything in to that?

Sometimes personal pronouns referring to God are capped for clarity. Maybe antecedent isn't clear.

Capitalization has been around almost as long as movable type, but very few holy texts are that young. Most of us take upper and lower case for granted, but they actually evolved out of two independent systems of writing.

As a kid, a Sunday School teacher once explained to us that we must only read the King James version of the bible because that was the language as Jesus spoke it.

Even as I heard her, I knew that this was a "Huh???" remark, but I'm embarrassed to admit exactly how old I was before I "got" it!

I'll take my gospel from Monty Python, thankyouverymuch. Blessed are the cheesemakers.

Who know that Christ was such a linguist?

What a friend we have in cheeses

Oh, Ray-Ray! I have really missed you!

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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