Saturday, April 7, 2012

Taking tone OUT

I might not be the best to say this-- notice the capitalization in the heading-- but I'm noticing that one all-too-common and somewhat anachronistic trend is perhaps overused, causing too much "tone."

That's capitalization. I was just reading a student paper that felt like a rant to me, but as I read it over, I realized that the content was appropriately contained and the word choice neutral. So why did it seem so rant-y?

Capital letters. Too many. The student was perhaps using an old usage guide, or capitalizing what he thought was important, or assuming that most nouns were proper nouns. Anyway, a sentence would be like this:

When I entered The University in the Fall, I immediately knew that I wanted to study Political Science, so that I could learn more about the Founders of our Nation and how they protected the rights of  The People.

The only letters I'd capitalize in that sentence are "W" (to start the sentence) and "I".

Each capital makes the reader sort of lurch forward and emphasize that word. So we're focused on the specialness of something. What's special about this university above all other universities? (If "university" is part of the title AND the whole title is there, yes, cap-- the University of Chicago-- but not when the rest of the title is missing, and pace Ohio State alums, but capitalizing the before "university" shows a certain fear of inadequacy, sort of like wearing a codpiece.)

To me, this reads as some perhaps adorably naive, very freshman-ish. (It was from a graduate student, alas.) It's the equivalent of dotting your i's with little circles. And when coupled with an even vaguely political slant, it comes off as a bit rant-ish. The People, you know? You mean, uh, us?  Oh, no. You don't mean "us," you mean The People who deserve better than the rest of us, huh?
You don't actually mean that, so don't capitalize a common noun.

As long as we're on the subject, I realize my overuse of "air quotes" (just like that, and you know, I ought to admit I overuse parentheses too), which I think is both amusing and precise, is probably in actually arch and annoying.

So...  confess now. What's a typographical or punctuational -thing- you do that you can't give up, but might cause an unpleasant and unplanned tone?
(I almost put "" around that last word. Arrgh.)

Alicia

11 comments:

L said...

Dashes! Dear God, all the dashes! In my head, characters are always interrupted by—

Julie Harrington said...

Ellipses. It's horrible. I'm trying though.

JT

Chihuahua Zero said...

Second'd on ellipses. Can't figure out how to give them up.

And I almost put a set there.

Leona said...

LOL mine's parenthesis :D and smiley faces. And LOL. or LMAO. But mostly parenthesis. (It's really bad habit in writing (unless writing humor) that can severly detract from your original thought and lead to rabbit trails. Now where was I? Oh yes, bad habits. ;)

I use them on the blog as much as I want to. LOL (I mean, it's my blog so if I want to be queen of the "m" dash and parenthesis, who's to say I shan't??) I'm "really good" about tearing them out of my WIP. So why can't I have them on my blogs? (And if someone does know a good reason, I probably don't want to hear it anyways. :P)

Arloa Hart said...

Dashes, and, in my blog writing, I've found that it's easy for me to overdo parentheses.

Maybe your college essay writer's first language was German. Don't they capitalize like crazy? (I know, probably not, but maybe the essay will improve if you imagine it read in a German accent. Or get worse.)

R. E. Hunter said...

Definitely parenthesis. I try to keep my main sentence to a single thought, and avoid having it run on or making it to complex. But then I try to squeeze in all these secondary thoughts by putting them in parenthesis, and end up making a mess.

Edittorrent said...

Dashes? Overuse-- not possible!
A

Edittorrent said...

Then again, JT, ellipses are really bad. Nothing like dashes.
A

Edittorrent said...

Leona, I use smiley faces too much too! And exclamation points!
A

Edittorrent said...

Arloa, yes, maybe that's it-- he's German!
A

Edittorrent said...

REH, did you read CS Lewis's Narnia? I attribute my parentheses problem to too much early exposure to Narnia!
A