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Tea for two

Great Fowler’s ghost, I am about to defend David Minthorn.

A worthy by the name of Eric Wemple, who opines for The Washington Post, accuses Mr. Minthorn of discriminating against the good and virtuous folk of the tea party movement. That is because Mr. Minthorn, editor of The Associated Press Stylebook, lowercases tea party and capitalizes Occupy Wall Street. And the Wicked News Media generally follow his lead.

Now The Post has every right, which it sometimes mistakes for a duty, to publish imbecilic opinion pieces. But since Mr. Wemple is plainly not interested in exploring why the news media might lowercase the one and capitalize the other, but rather make tedious arguments about that old bogey Media Bias, I thought I might give it a shot.

The argument Mr. Minthorn makes, and it is a respectable one, is that the tea party is not an organization but a movement of disparate elements. It’s a distinction we make elsewhere, and perhaps even Mr. Wemple can manage to parse the distinction between, say, republican and Republican. And when people in the tea party movement form organizations, such as the Tea Party Patriots, the news media do capitalize the name. Got that?

Now you can make an argument for capitalizing Tea Party, as some publications do—the news media not being monolithic—but that does not mean that the contrary view is invalid.

As to Occupy Wall Street, what you, you eagle-eyed lot, have already noticed, though it appears to have escaped Mr. Wemple’s attention, is that two-thirds of that name is already capitalized. How would Mr. Wemple have us write it? occupy Wall Street? occupy wall street?

Really, there are levels of silliness that ought to be beneath even op-ed articles.



Posted by John McIntyre at 11:39 AM | | Comments (3)


More of a question than an argument, but doesn't the "tea" stand for "taxed enough already?" In that case, shouldn't all three letters be capitalized?

I agree that specific organizations should be capitalized and that broad movements should not be.

But why then are all of the news media writing "the Occupy movement"?

Shouldn't it be "the occupy movement" when speaking of the overall movement?

Whether you admit it or not, the majority of news media have legitimatized the occupy movement from the get-go, though from the beginning the tea party movement was delegitimatized willy-nilly.

I see no earthly reason not to capitalize broad movements, and plenty of precedent for doing so. Are we to write "cubism" for "Cubism", "romanticism" for "Romanticism", and (Allah help us) "islam" for "Islam"? I think not. The Tea Party Movement is at least as concrete as any of these, and deserves its capital letters.

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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
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