The Shout Heard ’Cross the Page

How do you properly style short proper nouns? The same way you style longer ones.

Winter, 2013–2014 / No. 31

Taddle Creek currently is preparing a second edition of its editorial style book. Whereas the first edition, from 2007, was simply an in-house guide to the grammar and style rules most-oft referred to by the magazine’s staff, this new book will be available to the general public and contain not only Taddle Creek’s favourite entries from the first edition, but also some of the magazine’s most popular grammar rants that have appeared on this page over the years. (A new edition of Taddle Creek’s guide to fact-checking fiction is also in the works. The publication date for both is still to be announced.)

In tidying up its guide for mass consumption, the magazine came across one niggling thing it has meant to discuss for some time—something that, though covered off under a general rule in most style guides, could use some more specific clarification, in Taddle Creek’s opinion.

Taddle Creek has noticed over the years the tendency—among laymen and professionals alike—to spell in all-caps certain proper brand names consisting of fewer than five letters. Perhaps Taddle Creek is biased, but this error seems especially to occur in relation to the spelling of magazine names.

Look up the rules for handling the titles of brand names or periodicals in most any editorial guide, and you will see they are meant to be treated as any other proper name: with the first letter of each word (save the odd preposition) capitalized. Never should they be written in all-caps, unless the name or title is an initialism or acronym, with each letter standing for a specific word. And yet, watch how many people style the names of Mad, Now, and Us magazines, not to mention brand names such as Via or the Gap. You’ll often see them written, respectively as MAD, NOW, US, VIA, and GAP, and this simply is wrong.

Many brands set their names in all-caps in their logos as a means of attracting attention, or simply as a design device. Others print their name this way in all corporate correspondence and try, out of a sense of self-importance, to insist the public and press follow suit.

In the case of magazines, there long has been a tradition of periodicals styling their own names in small-caps within their own pages. Instances of this can still be seen in such publications as Time and Entertainment Weekly. (Taddle Creek once considered this quaint affectation, but thought the better of it considering how often it refers to itself. You’re welcome.)

Faced with these logos on a daily basis, it is very likely the average person becomes unconsciously trained to write them in all-caps. Taddle Creek is not a doctor, but if it were to put on its dime-store analyst hat, it would theorize that there may very well be something about the shortness of a three- or four-letter name that makes the brain see it differently than longer words and want to write it in all-caps. Evidence the fact that no one ever writes THE NEW YORKER, despite its own all-caps logo.

But again, Taddle Creek is not a doctor. So whatever the reason for this practice, once looked at logically, it is hard to argue against Taddle Creek’s rightness. Expect more where that came from in the magazine’s upcoming style guide.