Annals of Capitalization.

I thought I was used to the New Yorker‘s stylistic quirks, having read it for many decades now, but two words in this week’s Talk of the Town flummoxed me. From Jill Lepore’s lead Comment: “Serious malfeasance really began with Jackson, reached a pitch with Buchanan, then quieted down until the Presidencies of Grant and Harding, but all these shenanigans, he thought, seemed quaint compared with what Nixon stood accused of.” And from Tyler Foggatt’s piece: “From Queens, the tour might proceed to the Pierre hotel, in Manhattan […].” I can imagine an editorial theory under which one might talk of the Grant Presidency (though I would deprecate it), but “the Presidencies” just looks wrong. And I can’t wrap my mind around “the Pierre hotel” — is the idea that it is a generic hotel that happens to be qualified as Pierre, parallel to “the big hotel”? Is that really New Yorker style? I never thought I’d see the day when I’d be hoping something was a misprint, but here we are.


  1. J.W. Brewer says

    Theory: If (as I believe to be the case) the official name of the establishment, on its letterhead and whatnot, is simply The Pierre (or possibly The Pierre New York), rather than The Pierre Hotel, is it possible that there might be a weird house-style taboo against calling it the Pierre Hotel?

  2. Ah, you must be right. OK, then, that makes sense, even if it looks weird. Thanks, you’ve relieved my mind!

  3. J.W. Brewer says

    If I post enough comments on enough different threads, I’m bound to be right about something eventually.

  4. J.W. Brewer says

    Separately, “quieted down until the [P/p]residencies of Grant and Harding” is a weird turn of phrase regardless of capitalization, since 44 years elapsed in between Grant leaving the White House and Harding arriving there.

    Pres. Grant’s final State of the Union address, by the way, obliquely addressed the various unfortunate scandals with the stirring words “Mistakes have been made, as all can see and I admit,” which may be the ultimate origin of the “mistakes were made” passive-voice construction in American discourse.

  5. a weird turn of phrase regardless of capitalization

    True, now that you mention it.

    Pres. Grant’s final State of the Union address, by the way, obliquely addressed the various unfortunate scandals with the stirring words “Mistakes have been made, as all can see and I admit,” which may be the ultimate origin of the “mistakes were made” passive-voice construction in American discourse.

    Very interesting, and it may be!

  6. I thought the oddity of “quieted down until the Presidencies of Grant and Harding” to be odd for another reason of timing. Between Buchanan and Grant, there was only eight years. (What is more, during those years, it may not necessarily be that there was so much less corruption in the administration, but rather that it was less noticeable with much more important things going on at the same time.)

  7. Also a good point!

  8. An angry Subscriber writes: The New Yoörker makes such a big deal about every damn consonant that in the end half its text looks open to question. That’s an absurd objective for any style. I’m sure JW is right about the Pierre. Lower-case articles is how the Guardian newspaper also writes proper names (The Times and every other paper under The Sun think otherwise); however, if this decision is based on The Pierre being the name, then why write the Pierre?

  9. narrowmargin says

    Speaking of the New Yorker, check out the article on hyperpolyglots in the Sept. 3 issue.

  10. Reading vender on the bus ride home this evening gave me pause, as always.

  11. […] may not necessarily be that there was so much less corruption in the administration, but rather that it was less noticeable […]

    I love this story about Alaska purchase (aka “Seward’s folly”) and, please, if it’s in fact a legend, just don’t tell me. The purchase had to be approved by Congress and Russian ambassador decided that a considerable bribe should be paid to the hesitant members despite administration’s entreaties not to offer them. Talk about Russia collusion. It might be suggested that the ambassador wanted to pay the bribes, because then he would have the chance to skim from the top.

  12. Janet Freeman says

    There was another odd New Yorker capitalization in Emily Nussbaum’s recent piece (Aug. 13/20 issue): “every kid on 4Chan, hunting Lulz.” She didn’t write it that way (she told me on Twitter) — it was an editorial change.

    In my editing experience, when you have two “the’s” competing for the same space — “in the The New Yorker” — style often calls for keeping the generic one and dropping the one in the title.

  13. Jan Freeman says

    Another odd New Yorker capitalization (Aug 13/20 issue): “every kid on 4Chan, hunting Lulz.” Emily Nussbaum told me she didn’t cap Lulz, so it was an editorial decision.

  14. Thanks for that — I love getting an inside peek at these decisions. Capping Lulz is one of the stupider things of this nature I’ve ever seen. I can’t even imagine what the thought process was.

  15. squiffy-marie von bladet says

    (The correct spelling is of course “Łüļẑ” and you can tell Thëm I said so.)

  16. So not so much hunting Lulz as Łül-gathering.


  17. Vender is an expression of solidarity with Webster’s American spellings color, honor and so on that cut straight back to Latin. That’s the only reason I can think of.

  18. Well, a vender is one who vends, as a lender is one who lends. That one I don’t have much problem with, though it always looks odd.

  19. Looks odd because the rest of us spell it vendor. What next, shew?

  20. Re: Alaska purchase

    I did some study on it and I believe the way it is portrayed in America is bullshit.

    It was a deal of the same sort as Louisiana purchase, Florida purchase and cession treaties with Indian tribes.

    Most powerful nation on the continent made clear its wish that Russians should get out of North America, but diplomatically clothed its ultimatum in terms of commercial deal.

    Having zero wish to clash with America over money-losing colony, the Russians complied.

    That’s all there is.

    The talk of American reluctance is just posturing very similar to insincere protestations that the British empire arose by accident, “in a fit of absence of mind”…

  21. I always thought that the Russians were trying to dump Alaska after the Dominion of Canada was formed, because Great Game, and that if the US hadn’t bought it, it would probably have ended up French, an interesting picture.

  22. The impression I get is that Russians were keenly aware that just two years before 1867, the United States had one million men under arms – army larger than the Russian empire had.

    And don’t forget about ironclads…

    Not only Russians were impressed, but pretty much everyone. The French got kicked out of Mexico same year, an attempt was made to kick out the Spanish out of Cuba next year and with Fenian raids starting in 1866, it looked like that the US were about to use their new military might to get rid of British Canada as well.

    To St. Petersburg this sure appeared like the sustained effort to enforce the Monroe doctrine, now that the Americans finally had means to do so.

  23. It’s definitely true that contemporary opposition to the Alaska Purchase in the U.S. was very much a minority position, and the idea that America was opposed is a myth that has grown up since 1867. As far as I can tell, the opposition made the following points:

    1) No white people could be expected to move there, as the territory had no valuable resources except its fur-bearing animals, which were mostly hunted out.

    2) It would further burden the U.S. with a whole new set of aboriginal nations, possibly entailing more Indian wars.

    3) Non-contiguous territories were difficult to administer.

    4) The treaty had been written and signed in secret and presented to the Senate and the country as a fait accompli.

    None of this turned out to be persuasive to the U.S. as a whole, though of course some of it was brought up in Congress for merely partisan motives (“whatever it is, I’m against it”).

  24. On “the Pierre,” googling brings up their website which immediately announces, “The Pierre, A Taj Hotel, situated beside Central Park steps from the luxury boutiques of Fifth & Madison Avenues, is a white-gloved oasis for the discerning traveler.”

    Guess the problem–if any–is “the [lower case],” eh? Or maybe Tyler Foggatt is as put off about “The” as I am about the newish tag for Ohio State (my alma mater) which these days goes by “The Ohio State University.”

  25. Why the capital C in “4Chan”? Surely the 4 is already capitalised?

  26. Yes, that struck me as well.

  27. I’m going to draw a picture of a white-gloved oasis.

  28. Stu Clayton says

    It would be nice if you could include a traveler in the act of discerning, so’s I can get a better idea what that’s all about. I have long sought for a word to translate anspruchsvoll, this may be it.

  29. Articles and articles says

    I can’t speak for The NYer, but at The Times, it would be the Pierre, also. The stylebook wants only publication names to get a The. In cases when the name is used as an adjective, though, no cap: “the Times reporter So-and-So.”

    Ohio State should be ashamed of itself.

  30. Regarding “The Pierre” vs. “the Pierre”, The New Yorker is pretty consistent in not capitalizing “the” even when it is incorporated into the name of an establishment such as the Pierre. It’s “the New York Times” and “the Wall Street Journal” even though it’s “The” on the front page of those paper. However, it’s pretty consistently “The New Yorker” both in promotional text and within articles.

  31. I prefer non-capitalised for articles. It looks ridiculous writing The Beatles or The Rolling Stones.

  32. >So not so much hunting Lulz as Łül-gathering.


    This is why 4chanese are sometimes called beavers, known to the Indo Europeans as gatherers. Or heapers or something.

    (Even sorrier)

    Actually, while y’all were lol-ing at the capitalization of Lulz, I was gawking at “4Chan”. Did Nussbaum know enough not to capitalize Lulz, but let that silliness slip?

    And if the New Yorker had any consistency at all, shouldn’t it be “the Pierre, the hotel”?

  33. This is taking an un4chanate turn.

  34. I prefer non-capitalised for articles.

    I do too; it wasn’t the “the” that bothered me but the “hotel.” Once that was explained, I was satisfied on that count. Still bothered by 4Chan, though.

  35. let that silliness slip

    A Nussbaum piece earlier in the summer used randos, so I bet she knows how to spell 4chan and it was the editor(s).

    The Pierre, A Taj Hotel, … luxury boutiques of … Madison Avenue

    The Pierre was a charming place to stay in the Koch years, with a somewhat run-down elegance. And Madison Avenue in the Upper East Side was still full of smaller art galleries of all sorts.

  36. Finländare says

    Little do these pedestrians know that it is actually Lůlz.

  37. Stu: Judging by the glosses ‘demanding, exacting, fastidious, ambitious, discriminating, challenging, highbrow, advanced, sophisticated, up-market’ that I get from GT, anspruchsvoll includes, but is wider than, discerning in this sense.

  38. David Marjanović says

    But the product is what’s anspruchsvoll, not necessarily the consumer.

    For at least some uses, “intellectual” would be a good translation.

  39. I worked as an editor for The Tech, MIT’s student newspaper, during the dot-com boom, and we had to deal with a lot of weird company names. This was the era in which a lot of online companies had their Web site same as their actual company name; the thinking (at least for some companies) was that the company was really the same thing as the Web site. That led to some difficulties (and some differences, surprisingly intensely felt, between members of the news staff) in decided how to capitalize the names of various companies that we were writing about.

  40. David, John: anspruchsvoll is used in both ways, objective and subjective. In a Google search I immediately find anspruchsvolle Jobs and a book with the title 10 Gebote für anspruchsvolle Frauen. The former is “demanding/challenging”, the latter is “discriminating” with a teeny hint of “ambitious”, i.e. wanting to achieve something with their discriminating skills, not merely to swan around being immanent-anspruchsvoll. Although this too could be an ambition.

    The job of White House press spokesperson is anspruchsvoll. The word implies demands on mental rather than physical ability, but that’s not intellectual in the sense of having read a lot of books.

    I was making fun of “discerning traveler” because it seems to tout discernment as a thing-worthy-in-itself, with no indication of what it might be good for. But that’s what status marketing is about.

  41. I vaguely remember people capitalizing .Com, .Org, .Edu and the like. If that is a real memory, the guilty parties have no doubt long ago been exiled to Devil’s Island or such.

  42. No Fifth Avenue hotel thread would be complete without mentioning the property tycoon and early president of the Sherry-Netherland, Lucius M. Boomer. He sounds like a Groucho character. He operated a company named after a Mr Sherry (Louis Sherry sold high-end ice cream). Boomer died at the tragically early age of 67 in Norway. His Norwegian wife Jørgine (a rags-to-riches immigrant: she’d first married a surgeon at Columbia Presbyterian, Richard Sloane, who died six months later) subsequently hired Ffrank Lloyd Wright, who built her a so-called “desert cottage” in Arizona. There’s a well-illustrated telling of the story here.

    The Sherry Netherland is my favourite hotel name. I imagine myself sitting at the top in the house with the pointed green roof and drinking a schooner of Amontillado. To think Boomer Netherland was probably also considered.

  43. I vaguely remember people capitalizing .Com, .Org, .Edu and the like. If that is a real memory, the guilty parties have no doubt long ago been exiled to Devil’s Island or such.

    My god. I had no idea of the depths of degradation to which people could sink. Devil’s Island is too good for them.

  44. ‘Ere, what happened to my fascinating comment about the Sherry Netherland? It was up for a while, I saw it. It only had one link in it and no amusing name, perfectly straightforward. I thought it was odd that it said “at 2am”, partly because it was then 2 pm here and I know there isn’t a 12-hour difference.

  45. I have freed it from moderation; I have also rescued a comment you left in the On Teaching Useless Grammar thread (2018/08/19 at 6:46 am) which somehow got shoved into Spam. I think Aksimet occasionally sacrifices perfectly good comments to make up for the millions of actual spam comments it protects me from.

  46. Thanks, Language. We’re all willing to be occasionally sacrificed to the great god Aksimet in the name of spam prevention.

  47. I think it should be spelled Aximet: looks much more like a divine name that way, and less like kismet.

  48. David Marjanović says

    It is, in fact, Akismet, and I’ve always assumed the similarity to kismet is deliberate.

  49. I apologize to the Great Deity Akismet for mistyping the Holy Name. Delete me not, I pray!

  50. So is it Akismet as in the negation of kismet?

  51. A as in automatic.

  52. Or rather Automattic, this being the spelling chosen by the proprietors. What, if anything, this might have to do with attic, Attic, ‘Attic I do not know.

  53. The company name Automattic is a play on the name of the founder (and creator of WordPress and Akismet), Matt Mullenweg.

  54. I prefer non-capitalised for articles. It looks ridiculous writing The Beatles or The Rolling Stones.

    Given that, and given that this band exists, please discuss which if any of the following sentences is a) correct b) correct according to the New Yorker:

    “Singer-songwriter Matt Johnson played his first gig with The The in 1979”
    “Singer-songwriter Matt Johnson played his first gig with the The in 1979”
    “Singer-songwriter Matt Johnson played his first gig with the the in 1979”
    “Singer-songwriter Matt Johnson played his first gig with The the in 1979”
    “Singer-songwriter Matt Johnson played his first gig with the The The in 1979”

  55. Well, correct is in the eye of the beholder, but I suspect the New Yorker would go with “Singer-songwriter Matt Johnson played his first gig with the The in 1979.” As for me, I’ve thought that was a stupid name ever since I first encountered it, so I never speak or write about the band (though I do, happily and with gusto, about the Band).

  56. J.W. Brewer says

    This may be one of those situations where recasting the whole sentence to avoid the issue is the least-bad solution: “The The, featuring singer-songwriter Matt Johnson, played [its/their] first gig in 1979.”

  57. Where was it one first heard of the truth? The the.

  58. John Cowan says

    The Times and every other paper under The Sun think otherwise

    There are no papers whatsoever under The Sun.

    (I like this line from the WP article about the original post-Murdoch-purchase staff: “mostly selected for [their] availability rather than their ability”.

  59. Artist names can easily pose all sorts of capitalization conundra. For one other example take band names like “Thee Ultra Bimbos”, where Thee is evidently an eye-dialect spelling of the definite article, yet in principle also readable as a second-person pronoun. Is it to be de-capitalized in-sentence or not?

    For two, if we find an album with a cover reading “The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid”, from a band named Stars of the Lid — is the album name the whole line, or merely “The Tired Sounds Of”? If the latter, then how about “Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop”? “Tangerine Dream Plays Tangerine Dream”? Does any of this change if the artist name is in a different font and/or on its own line? Etc.

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