Sunday, March 23, 2014

The capitalization debate

A recent message made me wonder about capitalization in English. The answer was unexpected and funny. If you capitalize mistress, you should also capitalize slave. Why anyone wants to refers to themselves as "My" remains a mystery, especially when writing to a stranger on a vanilla topic.

A question

My Tumblr inbox is an interesting collection of surprises. Most senders are “looking for a mistress, master or anything else that is available.” Sorry buddy, you are barking up the wrong tree. Last week I received a different message:
"You reblogged one of My images without proper credits…”
Always hardcode your credits. Just look at the Carmenica Diaz blog why. Their site adds a border with their own watermark to other people’s pictures.

What made this particular message so interesting is the capitalization of the pronoun “my”. Some people capitalize words like she, her or mistress as a sign of respect towards their mistress. I assume it enhances their experience. I never cared much for it. When somebody argued mistresses take pride in their slaves and don’t want them to write like they did not finish secondary school I decided against it and only use it upon request.

What say the rules?

I am not a native speaker and wondered about capitalization in English. Let us assume you are the slave of mistress Enheduanna. What would be the proper way of writing her name? Is it mistress Enheduanna or Mistress Enheduanna? What if it is not mistress, but goddess or madame? Wikipedia was most unhelpful. The Economist is renowned for its clear and concise English so I turned to their style guide.
As a rule organizations and institutions, but not people are dignified with capital letters. There is room for individual judgment but in general use lower case unless it looks absurd. No doubt some will consider this a loophole.
For people the general rule is upper case for ranks and titles when written in conjunction with a name, but lower case when on their own. Thus: Queen Elizabeth, but the queen. That does not really clear it up. Is mistress a rank? How about goddess or madame? If so one should write Mistress Enheduanna, but the mistress. By the same definition slave is a rank. Thus: Slave Spartacus, but her slave.
An exception is made for titles that look unduly peculiar without capitals like Lord Chancellor but I doubt this applies to Mistress Enheduanna. The other exception is exalted people, such as the Dalai Lama and the Aga Khan. Also God and the Prophet.

Dutch and English are quite similar and that makes the differences so treacherous. In English proper nouns are capitalized. Proper nouns are names of specific people, places, organizations, sometimes things and family relationships when used as proper names. An example from the Purdue Online Writing Lab:
Here is a present I bought for Mother.
Did you buy a present for your mother?
This where it gets confusing. In Dutch mother is always lowercase. Is mistress Enheduanna a proper name in English? I do not know.

The verdict so far

If mistress Enheduanna is a proper name write it as Mistress Enheduanna. The word mistress without the name should not be capitalized. Just remember the definition applies to both mistress and slave. Yes, that is funny.
If it is not a proper name can you classify mistress as a rank? Vanilla people will most likely not consider it a rank. Some kinky people do. If you agree with that it means mistress and slave are both considered ranks. You have to capitalize Slave Spartacus too, which kind of defeats its purpose for some. Yes, still funny.
Rules for pronouns are simple, they are never capitalized, with one exception. In one of life’s little ironies “I” is upper case to show it is a proper noun. Even funnier:
Yesterday I bought a present for my mistress.
In the end it is about respect. Respect is defined by actions, not symbols. Both parties deserve respect. Respect like most things in life requires hard work to earn.

Self capitalization

What started this post was the word "My". Capitalize mistress' title, you, her or any other noun or pronoun you want if it is part of your role play or life style. Self capitalization (I just made that up) is something I do not understand. People who capitalize their own pronoun come across as insecure. There is a certain arrogance to it. In no way it reinforces dominance or superiority. It reduces it, assuming it was there at the start.
Shakespeare had Julius Caesar speak in third person singular to emphasize the emperor's arrogance and ego. Take pride in your accomplishments. It does not matter if they are kinky achievements or the great things you do in real life. Self capitalization because you have alternative sexual preferences and choose a particular role is very unattractive. If you want to please go ahead but at least check whether it is appropriate. E-mailing a stranger on a technical issue and referring to yourself as "My" looks a bit silly.  If this sounds like a rant just remember how many women only want their slaves to address them as mistress. Others should address them as madame. Should that rule not apply the other way around too?

"What we wish, we readily believe, and what we ourselves
think, we imagine others think also."
   - Julius Caesar

There are more people who wonder about the practice. In her BDSM lexicon Dumb Domme comes up with a great definition:
BDSM capitalization, n.: The annoying practice of fucking with standard rules of pronoun capitalization in order to indicate role or status. (because you, your role, and your dynamic are WAY too important to adhere to convention…)
Femdom Resource calls it capitalization bullshit and ends with:
The English language is bigger and more important that you are. It’s a top, not a bottom.
Ouch. Definitely some bruised egos there. Proper capitalization is the way to go. One final question: why do people write D/s? Should it not be d/s? That problem will take care of itself once we make German the lingua franca of the modern world. All their nouns are capitalized. Anyone say iPad?

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