Capitonym

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A capitonym is a word that changes its meaning (and sometimes pronunciation) when it is capitalized; the capitalization usually applies due to one form being a proper noun or eponym.[citation needed] It is a portmanteau of the word capital with the suffix -onym. A capitonym is a form of homograph and – when the two forms are pronounced differently – also of heteronym. In situations where both words should be capitalized (such as the beginning of a sentence), there will be nothing to distinguish between them except the context in which they are used.

Although some pairs, such as march and March, are completely unrelated, in other cases, such as august and catholic, the capitalized form is a name that is etymologically related to the uncapitalized form. For example, August derives from the name of Imperator Augustus, who named himself after the word augustus, whence English august came. Likewise, both Catholic and catholic derive from a Greek adjective meaning "universal".

Capital letters may be used to differentiate between a set of objects, and a particular example of that object. For instance in Astronomical terminology a distinction may be drawn between a moon, any natural satellite, and the Moon, to be specific the natural satellite of Earth. Likewise, Sun with a capital may be used to emphasise that the sun of Earth is under discussion.

In English[edit]

Philosophical, religious, and political terms[edit]

A particular example of where capitonyms are prominent is in terminology relating to philosophy, religion, and politics. Capitalized words are often used to differentiate a philosophical concept from how the concept is referred to in everyday life, or to demonstrate respect for an entity or institution.

It is common practice to capitalize the pronouns referring to the Abrahamic God (He, Him, His, etc.)[1][2] and many versions of the Bible, such as the NKJV, therefore do so.[3][4] In this tradition, possessive pronouns are also capitalized if one is quoting God; "My" and "Mine" are capitalized, which should not be done when a human speaks.[5] The pronouns "You", "Your", and "Yours" are also sometimes capitalized in reference to God.[6]

Words for transcendent ideas in the Platonic sense are often capitalized, especially when used in a religious context. Examples include "Good", "Beauty", "Truth" or "the One".[7]

The word "god" is capitalized to "God" when referring to the single deity of monotheistic religions such as Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. Other distinctions made include church (meaning a building) and Church (meaning an organization or group of people), and the liturgical Mass, versus the physical mass.

As political parties are often named after philosophies, a capital letter is used to differentiate between a supporter of the philosophy, and a supporter of the party, for instance Liberal, a supporter of any Liberal Party, and liberal, a supporter of the philosophy of liberalism. The Liberal Party of Australia and Liberal Party of Canada are not philosophically liberal; thus, in these countries, adherents of liberalism are sometimes said to be "small-l liberals" to differentiate.[8] Similar examples are conservative/Conservative, democrat/Democrat, libertarian/Libertarian, republican/Republican, socialist/Socialist, and a supporter of labour/Labour.

List of capitonyms in English[edit]

The following list includes only "dictionary words". Personal names (Mark/mark), place-names (China/china), company names (Fiat/fiat), names of publications (Time/time) etc. are all excluded as too numerous to list. Adjectives derived from placenames (e.g. Polish/polish) are allowed. Pairs in which one word is simply a secondary meaning of the other – e.g. Masonry (secret society), which is in essence a peculiar use of the word masonry (wall building) – are omitted.

Capitalised word Lowercase word Notes
Alpine: of or relating to the Alps alpine: relating to high mountains; living or growing in high mountains; an alpine plant
Arabic: of or relating to the Arabic language or Arabic literature arabic: (gum) Arabic, also called gum acacia, a food ingredient
Ares: god of war ares: plural of are, a metric unit of area Different pronunciations
August: the eighth month of the year august: majestic or venerable Different pronunciations
Cancer: a constellation and astrological sign, or a genus of crab cancer: a class of diseases
Cuban: from Cuba cuban: relating to cubes, as in cuban prime (rare technical use)
Divine: relating to God divine: to discover by intuition or insight; to locate water, minerals, etc. In lower case, the word can take either meaning
Gallic: relating to France or to the ancient territory of Gaul gallic: relating to galls (abnormal plant growths) or gallic acid
German: from Germany german: closely related (mostly obsolete)
Ionic: relating to Ionia or to a style of classical architecture ionic: relating to (chemical) ions
Lent: the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter lent: past tense and participle of to lend
March: the third month of the year march: to walk briskly and rhythmically
Mass: a liturgical function mass: a physical property of matter
May: the fifth month of the year may: modal verb
Mosaic: pertaining to Moses mosaic: a kind of decoration
Muse: One of the nine Greek goddesses involved with the arts, music, poetry, etc. muse: A person who serves as inspiration for artistic endeavours; also, to ponder reflectively over.
Pole: a Polish person pole: a long thin cylindrical object; various other meanings
Polish: /ˈplɪʃ/ from Poland polish: /ˈpɒlɪʃ/ to create a shiny surface by rubbing ; a compound used in that process Different pronunciations
Scot: a native of Scotland scot: a payment, charge, assessment, or tax
Scotch: from or relating to Scotland, or a form of whisky scotch: to put an end to (especially rumours)
Turkey: the country of Turkey turkey: a type of bird, meleagris
Welsh: from or relating to Wales welsh: to renege (on an agreement) The verb welsh (also spelled welch) is of unknown etymology but is often described as deriving from the adjective Welsh and consequently perceived as insulting to people from Wales, although there is no direct evidence of the connection, nor any popular perception that people from Wales do not comply with agreements

Example in poetry[edit]

The following poem, of unknown origin, is an example of the use of capitonyms:

Job's Job
In August, an august patriarch
Was reading an ad in Reading, Mass.
Long-suffering Job secured a job
To polish piles of Polish brass.

Other languages[edit]

In other languages there are more, or fewer, of these pairs depending on that language's capitalization rules. For example, in German, where all nouns are capitalized, there are many pairs such as Laut (sound) ~ laut (loud) or Morgen (morning) ~ morgen (tomorrow). In contrast, in Italian, as well as Spanish, very few words (except proper names) are capitalized, so there are extremely few, if any, such pairs. (An example is Messa (Mass) ~ messa (feminine past participle of mettere = to put), though the former is sometimes spelled with a lowercase m too.)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Shewan, Ed (2003). Applications of Grammar: Principles of Effective Communication. Liberty Press. p. 112. ISBN 1930367287. 
  2. ^ Elwell, Celia (1996). Practical Legal Writing for Legal Assistants. Cengage Learning. p. 71. ISBN 0314061150. 
  3. ^ The Bible translator: Volumes 43-45. United Bible Societies. 1992. p. 226. 
  4. ^ Cabal, Ted (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible. B&H Publishing Group. pp. xix. ISBN 1586404466. 
  5. ^ The Canadian Style: A Guide to Writing and Editing. Dundurn. 1997. p. 77. ISBN 1550022768. 
  6. ^ The Teaching of Christ: A Catholic Catechism for Adults. Our Sunday Visitor Publishing. 2004. p. 8. ISBN 1592760945. 
  7. ^ The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.). 2010. 8.93. ISBN 978-0-226-10420-1. 
  8. ^ Charles Richardson (27 May 2010). "How the Liberal Party left Malcolm Fraser behind". Crikey. Retrieved 2010-12-30. 

External links[edit]