Too! Much! Emphasis!

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

So often I see writing in which the author capitalizes words that are merely common nouns, not proper nouns (the official names of people, places or things). Someone explained to me yesterday that he deliberately does this because those common nouns are special to him and he wants to call attention to them. People frequently use boldface and italics for the same reason. As if that isn’t enough, they pepper their prose with exclamation points.

Lewis Thomas, who has several books of fine and fascinating short essays, in a piece called “Notes on Punctuation” compares the epidemic of exclamation points to someone’s small child jumping up and down on the sofa in the middle of the living room, shouting, “Look at me! Look at me!”

Thomas’ point, and not of the exclamation variety, is that as writers we need to make our words provide the emphasis. Adding capitalization, boldface, italics and unnecessary punctuation only detracts from our message and annoys the reader. Annoyed readers will move on. You want to lure them in, not chase them away.

In Benjamin Franklin’s day, rules of writing had not been codified. Read his entertaining Autobiography and you will see Words randomly Capitalized. (Annoying, right? But do read it; it’s a wonderful book.) We cut him slack because anything went in his day. Now we try to be more subtle. Proofread your writing for errant capitalization, boldface, italics and exclamation points and then get rid of them. You’ll hold your readers’ interest.

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1 Comment

January 27, 2014 · 11:30 AM

One response to “Too! Much! Emphasis!

  1. Pingback: Too! Much! Emphasis! | WordThoughts

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