Talk:Proper noun

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Are proper nouns part of the language in which they are used[edit]

I have changed the lead slightly to emphasise the point that a proper noun is part of the language in which it is used. This follows discussion at Talk:Kraft Dinner#Requested move 2011 in which this has been disputed.

The point was already made later in the lead, and I would previously have thought it safe to presuppose it, but evidently not. The early lead did previously make this presupposition. Of course, not all languages even have proper nouns as such, and not all languages mark them with capitalisation the way English does.

Or does someone here wish to put the opposite case? Andrewa (talk) 20:55, 27 May 2011 (UTC)

Sesquipedalian loquaciousness[edit]

Goodness, this article contains some overblown language. Worst case is probably:

Mary lives on Floor 3 of the Main Building. (same information content but recast cognitively as proper names. There is no etic difference except the cognitive one of the specificity that the capitalization imbues. It establishes an implicit sense that "within our commonly understood context [the building complex that we are standing in], the main building being referenced is the only main building. It is a unique object [as far as our context is concerned].)
What's wrong with saying "in this context, the capitalization shows that 'Main Building' is the name of the building, not just a description" (or words to that effect)? Wardog (talk) 15:38, 7 June 2011 (UTC)
There's a solid reason why the current wording was chosen, in terms of what it's trying to emphasize and explain, although (1) it's true that it flies over the heads of most readers and (2) there's probably room for shortening, if done right. The way it's written explains what's happening in terms of the cognition involved. Your suggested version seems good on the surface, but by itself it doesn't touch the reasons why what it says is true, or the nature of the difference between name and description. In fact, the whole reason why there is a blurry spectrum rather than a quantum dividing line between proper and common senses of a given noun (in other words, the reason why it's true, as said in the article, that "Because the orthographic classification has room for various implicit cognitive frames, it is somewhat arbitrary, which is to say, individuals can make different choices without either one being "wrong", and they cannot easily describe to each other their differing frames, because of the implicitness") is because the line between name and description is slippery—if you try to write an operational definition to cover all the cases (of differentiation), it fails, because the cases are of various subtypes. The best solution in the end may be to provide both as tersely as possible—the version you suggested, which is digestible although incomplete/vague, and a revision of the current wording that still emphasizes the cognition details but maybe manages to be shorter. I'll see about taking a crack at it. Quercus solaris (talk) 01:36, 9 June 2011 (UTC)
... although I must admit, the longer I think about your suggested revision, the more I like it. It's quite cogent, and I'm starting to wonder whether my concerns about it are moot for >99% of readers. I mean, I already know (versus "starting to wonder") that a short, easily digested, imprecise sentence is pedagogically much superior to a long, challenging, precise paragraph, in the context of a general readership, although it would fall short in technical documentation for failing to convey non-negligible technical information. That first half of that sentence is why your complaint is so valid. I'm not ready to give up on the precise part, but I think the easily digested part should be our first (and more important) statement. Quercus solaris (talk) 01:47, 9 June 2011 (UTC)

"Mary lives on Floor 3 of the Main Building." sounds strange to my (English) ears. If it is a name, and hence a proper noun, why is "the" included ? "The Queen lives at Buckingham Palace." not "The Queen lives at the Buckingham Palace." (talk) 22:09, 21 August 2011 (UTC)

There are many examples of both kinds. It's not as strange once you start thinking of more examples that "don't fit the no-article pattern". For example:
Quercus solaris (talk) 02:34, 8 September 2011 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── It's "Floor" that I don't understand. Why the capitalisation? I understand "Main Building" (I once worked in one. It wasn't the main building but it was called that because the bosses worked in it), but surely, every building with more than 2 floors has a floor 3, and no building has more than one of them, no matter what it may be named. 'Services and Accounts' maybe, but there's nothing unique about being on the floor above the floor above ground floor (or would you call that Ground Floor?).

My brain hurts --Deke42 (talk) 14:09, 28 February 2012 (UTC)

The reason the cap is on "Floor" is because "Floor 3" is a specific designator, and there's a strong (although not universal) convention in English orthography to capitalize specific designators, albeit not always consistently. But house styles set their own rules about it, so it's not any universal rule. As mentioned in the article, American Medical Association (AMA) style, which is often used in medical books and journals, lowercases specific designators. By the way, you just put your finger on the reason why it's unique within its implicit context. You said, correctly, that "no building has more than one of them" [a third floor]. Yup, and that's why Floor 3 is unique within the implicit context of the floors of this building. So is Floor 2. That's what drives the urge to capitalize it. Of course, it begins to seem silly when you shift mentally to outside that particular implicit context. What's so special about that floor of that building that it gets treated like Something Important With a Capitalized Name? Quite true. That's what puts the "temporariness" in the temporary proper noun duty of a word like "floor" when it serves as part of a specific designator. --Quercus solaris (talk) 02:09, 29 February 2012 (UTC)

The exact dispute raised in this thread, about specific wording is effectively moot, as the offending example was disputed for other, more serious reasons than "sesquipedalian loquaciousness", and removed as unsourced POV. That said, it may be worth addressing some points raised above, since they're apt to come up again. Some are covered in more detail in the RfC-related discussion below, and the one after it, disputing the example in question. I'll bulletize them for easier reading:

  • We have no source for the suggestion that "there's a strong (although not universal) convention in English orthography to capitalize specific designators". In fact the opposite is true, and becoming increasingly true over time, as the use (uncapitalized) of designators phrased in this way – typically a noun followed by a distinguishing label that is also a noun, e.g. "floor 3", "page 432", "section E", "code red", etc. – has become extremely widespread since the 19th century, growing out of legal/government language into everyday usage. Today, this capitalization of specific designators mostly only remains in those specialist contexts, where its styling is a form of jargon and traditionalism (see WP:SSF for more detail on this and how it relates to WP). *The capitalization (by some, sometimes) of specific designators is also simply a typographic coincidence, in which the same style is used both for most proper names and, not very frequently, for specific designators, when another style could have been converged upon for the latter, such as italicization. These style traditions are entirely arbitrary (thus we italicize some kinds of titles of published works, but use quotation marks for other types, etc.)
  • The "rule" that something like this "must" be written as "third floor" is a prescriptivist preference about "good writing", not linguistic description. Even as advice it is actually nonsense that is easy to disprove, simply by noting that we cannot do this at all with examples like "section E" ("E section" would not be parsed properly by most English speakers, many of whom would suppose it to be a medical abbreviation, like "C section"), and only extremely awkwardly (i.e. bad writing) with "page 432", as "the four-hundred-thirty-second page". The actual linguistic facts are that different constructions are expected in different orders (often not exclusively), and Modern English is increasingly moving toward a noun followed by a label that is itself a noun, rather than an ordinal, adjectival label followed by the noun it modifies.
  • Even if we accept that some people would capitalize "Floor 3" in the example, they're a shrinking minority, and many of them would never do it outside of a special context where it acted as a "this term/phrase with a special meaning here" signal (a term of art) to a specific insider audience, e.g. a letter from the landlord to tenants of that building.
  • It's not an example of a proper noun anyway, so including it in the article only muddles the clarity of the article, while illustrating nothing pertinent.
  • See also Deke42's response, "I understand 'Main Building' (I once worked in one. It wasn't the main building but it was called that because the bosses worked in it)": This is a shining example of how these concepts have become confused here. Calling something the "main building" because of who works in it doesn't make that a proper name, even if workers at that company would capitalize that phrase in internal memos; it just means they're being deferential to people who control their paychecks, and it is thus simply a faintly metaphoric descriptive phrase, evoking status.
  • Similar emotive concerns underly most if not all efforts to capitalize things that are not proper names. "But its important!" is the rallying cry of over-capitalizers everywhere. It's only important to them, in a particular context, and they find it difficult to accept that others either do not share that sense of importance, or properly realize that it's not germane. Importance doesn't make something a proper noun vs. a common noun. I could start the least important rock band in world, and name it Fleabags of Mars; we could meet once, play one single note, go home, and permanently disband, but Fleabags of Mars would remain its proper name indefinitely. A specific designator, like "band number 8" in the phrase "band number 8 in a long line of bands I've been in", would not be a proper name, nor capitalized by much of anyone, even if that band had become the number one musical act in the world, eclipsing even the Beatles in influential importance.
  • This "uniqueness" idea appears to be original research, bordering on a fringe theory; we not only have no source for this idea, our own article contradicts it, noting that a single proper name is often shared between multiple referents. The fact that there can be more than one Sarah working in the same office, and more than one place called Washington, may even be intrinsic to the concept of proper naming. Proper names do not "adhere" to their referents, which is also why most place names in the Americas and in Australia that are not indigenous were (and still are) the names of previous places or persons, and how it can be that the same place was Constantinople and is now Istanbul. But floor 3 of a building will always be floor 3, and band number 8 in a series of bands will always be band number 8; these designator relationships very often are immutable, demonstrating that they are something different from proper names. (Not all of them are fixed, of course; my band's number 1 album on the pop charts will not be number 1 forever. And do note that it's a "number 1", not "Number 1" or "first number"!) As for "unique", well, the disputed example is itself unique in its own context, but we capitalize neither it, nor any label for it ("the Disputed Example"[sic]). We could create a proper name for it, of course. As an example, a previous talk page discussion, at WT:MOS, which incidentally raised and settled some related questions, has a shortcut to its archive, WP:BIRDCON, and we often refer to it as "WP:BIRDCON" or simply "BIRDCON". Those shortcuts are proper names.
  • Note also the distinction between the previous example, "code red", a specific designator some but fewer writers would capitalize, mostly only in insider jargon, and "DEFCON 1", a proper name for the worst code red imaginable. If the aforementioned RfC was followed by another, it might similarly be BIRDCON2; many WP:ARBCOM cases are numbered this way, e.g. WP:ARBAA2, and these remain proper names not specific designators. Being sequential really has nothing to do with it. Note also that a code red cannot be referred to as a "red code"; just because some constructions like "floor three/3" can be inverted to "third/3rd floor" doesn't mean all of them can, so the idea that ones in "floor 3" format "must" be rewritten in "third floor" format under certain vague circumstances is patently false.
  • Finally, it's correct that the presence of the definite article doesn't determine whether something is a proper name or not, though in some later discussion below someone has again tried to make the case that it does. In actual practice, it's simply fairly likely that something with "the" will simply be a description or a specific designator rather than a name. Many proper names with "the" derive from designators that made the transition, but many, like "the Federal Bureau of Investigation" are created that way from scratch because of how our language works. (That said, the example given as "the House of the Seven Gables" is faulty, because it's a title, not simply a name, and is The House of the Seven Gables, italicized with an initially-capitalized "The". Titles of works can totally defy expected orthography, and are thus not good examples in articles like this. If I title my song "x", the the title really is "x", not "X".)  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  21:08, 13 April 2015 (UTC)

Informal proper nouns[edit]

One issue that isn't addressed here is informal proper nouns. Many examples given here simply illustrate the obvious i.e. the difference between the "main building" and the "Main Building". But what about names that aren't formal titles but refer to unique entities. For example:

  • The moon. Capitalisation is only use in astronomical contexts. Partly this is because historically and literarily many moons have been conceived of: the harvest moon, the crescent moon, the full moon etc. But actually there's only one. It's unique. So why isn't it a proper noun?
  • The sun. Ditto.
  • The US government. Or Government. It's not an official title, but it is a commonplace one, and it is unique.
  • Commonly accepted nicknames for people or key events. The only example I can think of is Australian, where the media wrote about the "children overboard affair" - not a proper noun?
  • The seasons. Not generally capitalised though months are. Though perhaps again traditionally considered multiple, i.e., a mild winter.

Has there been any analysis of this issue?--Jack Upland (talk) 13:05, 30 June 2011 (UTC)

The "moon/Moon" question (and sun/Sun, govt/Govt) is already addressed pretty well in the article, in my opinion; but you may be needing another element to complete the picture. The answer is along the lines that you're mentioning, i.e., the shift from a common-noun sense (e.g., "Titan is a moon of Saturn, and one of dozens of moons in our solar system") to a proper noun sense (e.g., the Earth only has one moon, which is called "the Moon" in English). Same with sun/Sun and govt/Govt. ("The U.S.'s federal government is often called by the name "the Federal Government.") It depends on what the speaker is referring to in any given sentence. I think maybe what's bothering you (I could be misinterpreting) is that some people, even when they mean the unique sense, *still* use a lowercase letter. And dictionaries don't label that as "wrong" (in fact, they enter it as an acceptable variant). So your question might be, why is this not "wrong"? The answer lies in the existence of the description/prescription spectrum. It's an epistemological question; it has to do with how anyone defines what's "correct" or "incorrect". There is no single universal answer, but rather a set of answers. If all speakers of English would agree to follow a certain logical instruction, namely that the "unique sense" be capitalized, then one could say that people who failed to do that were doing something "wrong". However, the thing about language is that its epistemological foundation is one of consensus usage, because it is only a coding system where symbols are agreed to stand for ideas. If enough people agree (implicitly or explicitly, planned or unplanned) that the word moon with lowercase can refer to the Earth's one moon, as the orthographic representation of its name, then it is "correct" to use it, by that very definition. It would be as if Samuel Morse, in building Morse code, had declared that 6 dots plus 8 dashes represented the idea "banana". It would be correct because the definition-maker said it was correct. In natural language, lexicographers (the people who make dictionaries) don't have the power to dictate to all speakers of the language what the definition will be. They can try to suggest and encourage, but in the end, if people widely do something different, a dictionary needs to record what they also do besides the "preferred" variant. Language academies are intended to be institutions with some amount of standards-defining power, like a standards organization for standard languages, but standard languages in reality only are influenced by, compete against, and influence natural languages; they never quite replace them (despite anyone's hopes that they might). But all of the above is something that few people outside the field of linguistics understand properly, because the educational system has traditionally not been informed by any applied science version of linguistic science—which it is now overdue to begin correcting. In the meantime, almost no one who learned traditional grammar in school is equipped to understand the "correct-versus-wrong" discussion properly. So the answer to your final question, "Has there been any analysis of this issue?", is that (1) there definitely has not been within traditional grammar, which was never equipped to deal with it, epistemologically, because the idea that there's a "one correct way" in natural language is not even true, in reality (there is only "should be" versus "is"); and (2) there may well have already been such analysis within the field of linguistic science, which a literature search of the field by someone who fully understands its jargon could determine; but if so, only linguistics PhDs know about it so far, and they haven't brought any of that knowledgebase to Wikipedia yet. Hopefully they will over the next decade or two. I hope this reply is of some value toward answering your questions. Regards, Quercus solaris (talk) 16:40, 1 July 2011 (UTC)
Well, I don't think you've dealt with the issue. It seems that mostly people don't treat informal or non-institutional proper nouns as proper nouns. It is true to say that there is no one to enforce compliance, but it is also irrelevant. The fact is there is a hole in grammar.--Jack Upland (talk) 10:51, 20 July 2011 (UTC)
I may not be understanding the thing you're trying to convey, but I think I do now, and I believe you're onto something valid (if I understand rightly). I think you're right about the "hole", although I have a qualification to add to the "irrelevant" idea, which I'll explain a bit further below. I think what you're saying is essentially grasping the same truth (reality) as is the following: that the reality includes a facet whereby the general population is all able to communicate successfully using English—except people with high levels of MR, of course—*but* many members of that population do not always keep the common-/proper-noun distinction clear in their minds as they're doing it [which is undetectable (by observers) in their speech, but is revealed in their writing by certain lowercased proper nouns, specifically, "temporary" ("contextually proper") proper nouns]. They still communicate successfully, but that overall success happens despite a subtle incompleteness in the way that their brain handles the common-/proper-noun distinction. I would agree that that's true. I would hypothesize that the reason for it is quite natural, which is that language inherently is about imposing a model on top of reality, and it won't always fit right at every corner, but the wrinkles at the odd corners are ignored, because the model works well enough to succeed at communicating. People know that if they are talking about a car, a certain car, and it is the only car in the household, they call it "the car" when writing a sticky note to each other, for example, "Put this box in the car tonight." Now, trying to be perfectly logical, you could argue that they *should* be writing "put this box in the Car tonight", with a cap C, because that would be exactly parallel to how they "ought" to treat the Moon (the Earth's moon) ("Put a human being on the Moon by 1969"). But of course no one caps "Car" like that. It's just not done; despite the common/proper distinction built into the language (which is keyed to unique-or-not-unique-within-an-implicit-context), the language's users do not carry it out to its logical extreme. Which you could call a "hole" in grammar. If that's in fact what you're trying to point out, I would agree that you're right. And I would say that when people lowercase "moon" even when referring to our moon, the Moon, their brains are simply treating "moon" the same way they would treat "car" in the example above—the only difference being the "grandness of scope" of the implicit context (this household vs the whole world). One could argue that this fact (that they treat "moon" like "car", when arguably they shouldn't) represents a failing in their brains. But I wouldn't agree with that, because what it is revealing is really only the following: language inherently tries to impose a quantum classification scheme (discrete steps) onto a broad reality that is essentially a continuous graph. In other words, to use a metaphor, it inherently uses a pixelated raster model to approximate a true vector image. In this case (common/proper), the discrete model is the dichotomy of "nonunique vs unique", but it carries with it implicitly the assumption that the speaker is paying some amount of conscious attention to the "uniqueness value measurement" and the breadth of the context (which largely determines whether it's expected to shift fluidly or remain mostly fixed [e.g., household vs whole world]). But true reality is a messy continuous graph, and human minds don't bother keeping perfect track of that from moment to moment and topic to topic. Rather, what they do is to impose an arbitrary threshold. If we're talking about a car (common) and the car [of this household] ("temporary proper"), we won't bother to make the cap/lowercase distinction. It's not important and the context shifts too easily to bother. Now, with moon/Moon, some of us will bother to keep it straight, and others won't. But all that means is that some of us are a little more fasidious than others in this cognitive area. *But* even the fastidious ones among us make no attempt to make a car/Car distinction. So, in other words, this "problem" will always exist; it's merely a question of how hard we'll work to push the threshold down toward smaller contexts. But none of us will create a language that models reality perfectly, with no "compression data loss". Therefore, do we care if some people have an easier-to-reach threshold than others? I'd say no, because it doesn't interfere with communication, and we can't avoid it anyway (a threshold will always exist—we can't avoid having one—and different people will always set their thresholds in slightly different spots—we can't get them all to be exactly alike). So it doesn't matter. In the end, I'd argue that (if I understand your point correctly), you're right that there's a "hole". But my jury is still out on whether the lack of compliance enforcement is totally irrelevant. I'd say it *is* relevant to the extent that people want to talk about whether a certain usage is an "error". That depends on how effectively it's being prescribed against. I could prescribe that no one should ever use the word "purple" because it's vulgar and "violet" is the only "correct" way to go. But no one else would agree with me that using "purple" is an "error". But, on the other hand, I could insist that "cat" is the only correct spelling of the word for the feline, and "kat" is incorrect. Now, *there*, everyone would agree with me that "kat" is an "error". But what is the difference between the "purple" and "cat" cases? It's really just the strength of the convention, although people are often unaware of that; the belief is that spelling is right-and-wrong in a handed-down-from-God, morally-judgeable way. But really it's just the strength of the convention; spelling is highly standardized in a way that everyone accepts (with some exceptions). But when you analyze the true nature of language and the messy reality that it tries to represent with symbols, you find out that "error" is a slippery concept. So that's one way that the lack of enforcement is relevant. Anyway, sorry to ramble so much, good night ... Quercus solaris (talk) 02:56, 21 July 2011 (UTC)

I think the issue here is that the description of proper nouns given in the article doesn't fit the actual usage. In fact proper nouns are capitalised if they are considered to be the actual name of things. In formal ones aren't, and there are weird conventional instances given above which are inconsistent.

The Moon/Car example is inapposite. You are confusing the use of the definite article with proper nouns. There are many different cars around, so Car would only be a proper noun if someone decided to name their car Car. On the other hand, from an earthly point of view, there is only one moon. Travelling to the Moon is as specific as travelling to the North Pole. However, as I said, the tradition of treating the moon as a common noun probably stems from the differing perceptions of the moon (full, half, crescent etc) and possibly there was a belief that the new moon was really a new object...--Jack Upland (talk) 10:24, 24 July 2011 (UTC)

Nope, no confusion—you have to explore the nature of the uniqueness, which depends on the implicit context, in order to describe what happens in the language. I stand by the Moon/Car example; I'm pretty sure that there are aspects of this that you're not getting yet. There are many moons in the universe, just as there are many cars on Earth. Neither our moon (which we name "the Moon" in our implicit context of Earth, although that would not work if we shifted namespaces to Mars suddenly) nor my household's car is necessarily unique *depending on what your implicit context is.* It is both validly unique and validly nonunique depending on which implicit context is loaded in memory at the moment. You mention "[...] only be a proper noun if someone decided to name their car Car". But that's in fact exactly what happens when someone wants to talk about Chapter 5 of their book instead of chapter 5, or Case 12 in the case study series instead of case 5. Neither one is wrong; one is Chicago style, the other is AMA style. What happens with a proper sense, most visibly in the cases of specific designators and the way that different speakers handle them differently, depends on the assumed or implied context. Quercus solaris (talk) 03:48, 22 August 2011 (UTC)
Well, no, you've missed the point because the Moon has been the moon in popular parlance long before other moons were conceived of.--Jack Upland (talk) 12:20, 8 September 2011 (UTC)
I disagree that I missed any point. See earlier above at "If enough people agree (implicitly or explicitly, planned or unplanned) that the word moon with lowercase can refer to the Earth's one moon, as the orthographic representation of its name, then it is "correct" to use it, by that very definition." I don't think there's any hidden logic to be found in the wild usage (such as the idea harvest moon/full moon/new moon idea that you mentioned). People just write language in ways that don't conform to prescriptive orthography. Consider the following: How did it come to be that some language's standardized orthographies capitalize the names of the days of the week and of months whereas other languages' standardized orthographies don't? For example, Spanish miercoles or enero versus English's Wednesday or January? Was it because of something like the harvest moon/full moon/new moon idea? No, it was simply because one language focused on the cognitive framing that Wednesday is unique as "a day of the week" but another language focused on the cognitive framing that particular Wednesdays are not unique (because there are 52 of them in every year). In other words, "Wednesday" can be logically conceived of as a common noun with specific-designator instances (last Wednesday; next Wednesday; the Wednesday when I came home from school and encountered a bear; Wednesday, January umpteenth, 1952). Quercus solaris (talk) 01:12, 9 September 2011 (UTC)

A name referring to a class?[edit]

In many games with monster species (Pokémon being the most prominent of these), the species is often referred to by the proper name of a generalized member of that species (for example, you'd say "My favourite Pokémon is Squirtle" instead of, say "My favourite Pokémon are the Squirtles" -- "Scorchio is a good choice of a starter Neopet", instead of "A Scorchio... (etc.)"), whereas real-life common animals do not get this treatment ("Dogs are my favourite animals", not "Dog is my favourite animal"). What kind of special usage is this? ZtObOr 20:26, 18 July 2011 (UTC)

Interesting question. The thing that stands out to me is how this is analogous to the days-of-the-week thing mentioned elsewhere. One can say any of the following:
  • "I hate Tuesday, because it's not close enough to Friday."
  • "I hate Tuesdays."
  • "Every day is like Sunday in this seaside town."
  • "Weekdays feel like Sundays around here."
I suspect that the same thing is going on linguistically with the Pokemon characters. "Scorchio is a good choice of a starter Neopet"—compare "Thursday is a good day for laundry, because the laundry room traffic is lightest on Thursday". In both cases there is a thing going on with the archetype (which is unique among archetypes—in other words, unique when the implicit context is the archetype level) versus the concrete instances (which are numerous—in other words, not unique when the implicit context is a mental calendar full of specific Thursdays). Quercus solaris (talk) 01:25, 9 September 2011 (UTC)
Compare and contrast "Canis lupus familiaris is my favorite animal." (I note that "Pokémon" is commonly used to mean "type of Pokémon" as well as "individual Pokémon entity", whereas there are few contexts in which "animal" refers to a species.) —Twice Nothing (talk) 07:46, 12 December 2013 (UTC)

Definition of Capitonym[edit]

I have a question. Based on the definition, "a word that changes its meaning (and sometimes pronunciation) when it is capitalized", I added the following example: "Different meanings are conveyed by Blue Jay and blue jay. The former is a particular species of jay; the latter refers to any blue species of jay, a group of birds whose members are mostly blue." The example has twice been removed by people who contend that it is not appropriate. Why? Natureguy1980 (talk) 18:23, 10 January 2012 (UTC)

(a) Because it's incorrect. A news search shows that a "Blue Jay" is a member of any of several sports teams while "blue jay" is a particular species of jay,[1] in every reliable source other than ornithological journals. (b) Capitonym makes no mention of species in its longer list of words that change meanings when capitalized. -- JHunterJ (talk) 18:35, 10 January 2012 (UTC)
I keep seeing the claim that "only ornithologists" follow the convention of capitalizing bird names. As an editor of an American Birding Association publication, I can tell you that the tens if not hundreds of thousands of amateur birdwatchers in North America would disagree. The ABA's convention, as is the convention of every field guide I've ever seen, is to capitalize bird names. The ABA is not an organization of ornithologists: it is an organization of amateur birders and birdwatchers. I can point you to many non-ornithological sources which capitalize bird names. I again ask the question, given the definition, why is this not a proper example? I'll happily agree that most non-ornithological sources go not capitalize bird names, but I don't see how that makes this an invalid example of a capitonym. Natureguy1980 (talk) 18:37, 10 January 2012 (UTC)
"only ornithologists and birders", then. The statement that "different meanings are conveyed by Blue Jay and blue jay" is incorrect -- both are used to refer to the specific species. -- JHunterJ (talk) 19:17, 10 January 2012 (UTC)
And among the minority of people who draw such a distinction, "Blue Jay" still doesn't constitute a proper noun (and almost no ornithologists, let along grammarians, claim otherwise). —David Levy 20:00, 10 January 2012 (UTC)
And on what do you base this statement? Please see the following link for a statement to the contrary: Natureguy1980 (talk) 20:02, 10 January 2012 (UTC)
Have you been following the discussion at Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style (in which you've participated)? In those threads, Greenlaw is the one ornithologist noted to have made such a claim (hence my above reference to almost no ornithologists).
And Greenlaw, who isn't a grammarian, is commenting on what he believes should occur (with the English names of birds "[receiving] capitals in all English publications"), not documenting reality. —David Levy 20:21/20:28, 10 January 2012 (UTC)
I have indeed been following the discussion. We'll just have to agree to disagree. In my world, and that of most birders/birdwatchers/ornithologists, there is a huge difference between Blue Jay and blue jay, and there has been for 50 years. Your simply saying otherwise does not make it untrue. Natureguy1980 (talk) 15:43, 11 January 2012 (UTC)
No one disputes that the convention exists among ornithologists and bird enthusiasts. That doesn't make it a generally recognized practice (as your text implied).
More importantly, even in the relevant context, "Blue Jay" isn't a proper noun (notwithstanding a single non-grammarian ornithologist's opinion of how it should be treated in "all English publications"). —David Levy 20:21, 11 January 2012 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── Belated two cents: Natureguy1980, you're correct that this orthographical convention for case sensitivity of common names of genera or species exists among people who are into taxonomy (such as birders and dog breeders). But the problem with adding it to this article only as a simple statement (like "this is the [one] way it's done") is that general English orthography (outside the animal-specialist people) doesn't follow the convention. For example, looking at several common, widely used dictionaries (Merriam-Webster's Collegiate 11th and American Heritage 3rd are the ones that I have at hand at the moment), both enter headword "blue jay" (lowercase) as the name of the specific species (Cyanocitta cristata). This also happens with other animal common names like "Rat Terrier" versus "rat terrier". The animal people, especially ones well versed in different varieties (species and subspecies), tend to use the capped styling, but lexicographers tend to use the lowercase styling. I have noticed that in Wikipedia, the animal people tend to get their way with the capping of article subjects, which only makes sense given that Wikipedia articles are mostly developed by people who have an interest in the topic, and when it comes to animals, that means animal lovers, watchers, breeders, etc—who tend to use caps on common names. Thus, for example, the Wikipedia article on rat terriers styles them Rat Terriers. Wikipedia can in fact provide accurate coverage of this difference in orthographical conventions between user subpopulations within a larger general language community. But instead of just listing "capped Blue Jay means X and lowercase blue jay means Y" here in this article, the coverage has to compare/contrast/explain the differing orthographical conventions, and really a better place to do it is in the article on common names. Which I invite any of us to do whenever we may have time. I probably won't initiate it myself anytime soon (too busy), but if anyone else initiates it, I could jump in if I see where some help is needed to develop the coverage. Regards, Quercus solaris (talk) 02:24, 12 January 2012 (UTC)


"In German, both proper and common nouns are capitalized." This sentence doesn't explain anything, because in German every single noun is captalized: ein Mann, die Frau, das Auto... — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 14:30, 11 January 2012 (UTC)

Yeah, you're right (all nouns), but that's exactly what the text means to say—"both proper and common nouns are capitalized", that is, not just proper nouns. In other words, in German, all nouns are capitalized. It's another way of saying the same thing. But your way ("all") may be the clearer way. I just went and tweaked it for clarity. Hope this helps. Quercus solaris (talk) 02:31, 12 January 2012 (UTC)

proper nouns are not nouns?[edit]

We've got an edit war going over whether proper nouns are (morphological) nouns or not. Do we have a source that addresses the different POVs? — kwami (talk) 21:07, 8 May 2012 (UTC)

The Oxford Companion says that the two are distinguished only by some grammarians. Do we have a source that contradicts that? -- JHunterJ (talk) 05:32, 9 May 2012 (UTC)
Hunter, are you sure of your ground in your most recent edit (some linguists)? You could say some about many claims in this article. It may be sourced, but undue weight might well be a consideration here. Tony (talk) 12:12, 10 May 2012 (UTC)
No idea what that question means. Yes, Oxford Companion directly says "some grammarians" distinguish between proper nouns and proper names. -- JHunterJ (talk) 04:33, 12 May 2012 (UTC)

Who makes the distinction[edit]

I've provided the quote above that says "some grammarians distinguish". Can you provide the quotation Huddleston and Pullum (2002), pp. 515–522; Aarts (2011), pp. 42, 57 that says "this distinction is the norm among linguists [still linguists? I thought you were saying linguistics makes the distinction, not linguists] competent in current syntactic theory"? -- JHunterJ (talk) 11:37, 4 July 2012 (UTC)

Effectively done (see my recent edits) – except that what you quote from me ("this distinction is the norm ...") is what I put in an explanatory edit summary, not a detailed wording that needs support in the text of the article. The facts are plain: in modern syntactical analysis a clear distinction is made between nouns and noun phrases. The article currently begins with this definition: "A proper noun is a noun that in its primary application refers to a unique entity". Well? If a proper noun is defined as a kind of noun at the outset (as it certainly ought to be), how can we later demote this to a mere assertion by "some grammarians"? No, this is standard terminology in modern linguistics: and if the item in question is a noun phrase and not also a noun, then use only the more inclusive term: proper name. Huddleston and Pullum are the preeminent academic players in the field of English grammar. Ask any working linguist. They give the most rigorous application of modern linguistic theory to English grammar that has yet appeared. Again, ask any linguist. Some unrelated elements of their analysis are new and surprising, but all are thoroughly well-argued. I myself have disputed with one of the editors over other, quite separate aspects of this 1900-page grammar; but the terminology for proper names and proper nouns is consistent, complete, and standard. It is not so much that some linguists disagree (along with many writers of grammars and style guides who are ignorant of modern syntactic categories); it is more that some linguists are careless (see the example of Greenbaum in the article), or are cited from older sources that are not so attuned to the current scientific regimentation of their field. The topic of proper names is a difficult one in linguistics, side-stepped by many. The unavoidable philosophical issues make it hazardous, and not all linguists are comfortable or confident in tackling it. Hence much of the obscurity and inconsistency that we find in lower-quality sources. We should emulate the best, not the mediocre – though we can, and currently do, register their lapses from rigour and excursions into definitional incoherence.
The source whose assertion you earlier insisted on quoting verbatim is still given in the article: and yes, "some grammarians distinguish" is strictly true for the present case. But so is "some molecular biologists believe in Darwinian evolution". We should be mindful not to make misleading implicatures, and we should write informative articles that respect what are clearly the most reliable sources.
NoeticaTea? 00:04, 5 July 2012 (UTC)
It looks like you've identified some sources as leading, great. The claim though is that the leading source itself says that "current linguistics makes" the distinction. If the source does ascribe the distinction to the broader group, then the phrasing "Many linguists make" (or even "many leading current lingusts make") is more accurate. The other way to look at it is original research, to take the claims of many linguists (leading current linguists, but many) and reworking it to a broader or different statement than they're making, or asking any linguist rather than relying on what the source actually says. -- JHunterJ (talk) 11:06, 5 July 2012 (UTC)
The central claim is not what you say it is. It is that a certain distinction is made in state-of-the-art theory – not that anyone says it is made. And what's more, denial of that distinction inevitably yields inconsistencies and perpetuates confusions. You answer something in my long reply to you, but you ignore the rest. Do you simply accept that the article should begin as it does ("A proper noun is a noun that in its primary application refers to a unique entity"), and then proceed to countenance an unexplained inconsistency? Put it this way: What's your view? Is a proper noun a noun or a (multi-word or single-word) noun phrase? If that is your opinion, why did you not query the assertion in the first sentence, rather than a later assertion that is fully backed by citations, and cautiously qualified by mention of dissenting views from less reliable sources? When you've answered that, I can offer several solutions, depending on precisely what the impasse will then appear to be.
NoeticaTea? 02:59, 6 July 2012 (UTC)
I don't ignore the rest, but I answer concisely. You are synthesizing and drawing additional conclusions from the sources, which is original research. Incorporating my view would also be original research. I have a source that very clearly says "some grammarians" distinguish proper names and proper nouns. I focus on the details because the lede can be expected to lose some granularity in its summary. If, however, you feel that the result is contradictory, we can change the lede as well. What is the quotation from the sources that includes the subject "current linguistics" (or similar to be paraphrased) and the predicate "makes a distinction between proper nouns and proper names" (or similar)? -- JHunterJ (talk) 11:33, 6 July 2012 (UTC)

Uniqueness versus nonuniqueness depends on context; revised article currently avoids dealing clearly with that logic[edit]

It's not even logical to talk about the unique-vs-nonunique distinction without talking about context (whether implied or expressed, that is, implicit or explicit). That's the simple, central "lesson learned" in software development as that field learned to deal with namespace conflicts; and the proper-vs-common differentiation in natural languages, with its variations in specific designator handling, is just one of the particular cases in the case analysis. As of this writing, brief discussions of it can be found on Wikipedia at the naming collision article and at Identifier > Implicit context and namespace conflicts. This article (proper noun) used to contain sentences that stated that the essence of proper-vs-common and thus the general cap-vs-lowercase difference is uniqueness within a context (with the context being, in natural languages, usually implicit). Now it doesn't. This article (proper noun) used to contain sentences that explained that most often, the implied context is "the universe" or "the whole world", but not always (Kentucky and Jupiter in the first case; but in the second case, City Hall, Main Street, and Foreign Ministry as capped identifiers depend on their namespaces—their context, whether implicit or explicit—for their uniqueness). Now it doesn't. This article (proper noun) used to contain sentences that succinctly explained exactly why style guides could vary in their treatment of specific designators, and each could be using internally consistent logic (having to do with the framing of the implicit context). Now it doesn't. Instead, this article now just falls back on vagaries saying that these styling decisions "are complex" (in so many words) and thus style guides disagree on them. This is over-mystifying a thing that isn't in fact all that mysterious. The people who write the AP Stylebook understand the general logic that they use to guide specific entries in the book. It's not so very "complex" to them, nor to subeditors who edit copy to that style. I would submit that (1) this article will never succinctly and adequately explain its topic until it deals with the simple concepts mentioned above; (2) I realize that Wikipedia must follow in the wake of what its available citable sources adequately deal with, or fail to deal with; (3) Thus, if linguistic science hasn't yet gotten around to dealing with the concepts above, then Wikipedia may remain handicapped to suit until that omission is fixed; but (4) if linguistic science hasn't yet gotten around to dealing with the concepts above, then it's time to update the textbooks, people! Linguistic scientists have been bunker-busting the flawed portions of traditional grammar for over a century, and all linguists know that the work is still far from done. This is a call for air support in a particular location. There's an ignorance bunker that needs busting. Linguists, do you copy? Quercus solaris (talk) 15:12, 4 July 2012 (UTC)

Quercus solaris:
I'm sure your message is copied. ☺ But that is a difficult set of statements to navigate, or to made good sense of. I think you conflate properness and aptness to be capitalized in a way that gives too much credence to older, less scientific sources – and perhaps too much to analyses dwelling on current English-language practice. So did the article, till I took out a great deal that is irrelevant to the topic, and that belongs instead at Capitalization. You also underplay what is immensely difficult in the semantics of proper names. An inkling of this can be had from the article Proper name (philosophy), which could be expanded to show more of the unresolved issues that promise to exercise philosophers of language for years to come. As for style guides such as the AP guide, the discussion of them was largely irrelevant also. I have added something on style guides that is more focused on the themes of this article.
Of course, anyone can edit! But I put it to you: until Kwami and I tackled it, the article was a mess. There is more still to do; if anyone thinks they can add to the rigorous and accurate content that we now have, please go ahead. If anything seems sloppy or ill-supported in sources, or off-topic, you know what to do. Others, of course, will know what to do also.
NoeticaTea? 00:30, 5 July 2012 (UTC)
Hi Noetica, I'm sorry if my attempt at explication didn't succeed in producing understanding, but it's actually not complicated, even if it sounded so. It's got nothing to do with older (e.g., 18th century) notions of "importantness" or "aptness". Quite the opposite; as I said, linguistic science faces a task of getting human understanding about language away from prescientific language epistemology (such as some portions of traditional grammar). You say you don't see the relevance of style guides' handling of specific designators, but I assure you that the relevance is there, even if it's sailing over your head at the moment. I'm not sure if your reply about "copied" is meant to imply plagiarism or something (?), but if so, nothing of the sort. The main point of my comment above is that until linguistic science explores and explicates these aspects of the topic, humans will not have a good epistemology for defining the nature of the proper-vs-common distinction, which includes handling the corner cases, specific designators. It all boils down to a very simple concept: An instance of a theme that is unique within a narrow context can easily be nonunique within a broader context. You can name your city hall "City Hall", by capitalizing the common noun, and that identifier is tied to uniqueness within the context of your own city; but within the context of a state or country full of cities, it is not tied to uniqueness. Thus you must specify, for example, Philadelphia City Hall or Los Angeles City Hall in order to point to a specific city hall from within a broader context. There's nothing mystifying about the basic difference there! But until textbooks themselves are updated, Wikipedia as a citer of textbooks won't be able to give adequate coverage. Quercus solaris (talk) 01:31, 6 July 2012 (UTC)
Quercus, it is unlikely that anything here is "sailing over my head", as you incautiously put it. I analysed what the article had to say about style guides before substituting some more focused observations about them. They constitute a major research interest for me; I am therefore a collector of such guides, relevant dictionaries, and related material; and I am up to speed with the relevant theory in linguistic and philosophical semantics, unlike some who comment at this talkpage or edit the article. By the way: epistemology is not of central importance here – at least, not in the way you deploy it ("It's an epistemological question; it has to do with how anyone defines what's 'correct' or 'incorrect'," and the rest); epistemology is a precise term of art in philosophy, and I advise you to check its exact meaning. (Check also the meaning of vagaries, which is not about vagueness as you seem to think.) I judged that a great deal of that material was off-topic, confused, and ill expressed – as was a whole lot more in the article, especially concerning capitalisation. There is more to tighten still, in fact. Tell me: why do you think that the matter of context and uniqueness is not adequately covered in the article as it now stands? Search on the word "context". Beyond that, some of your concerns do seem to belong at Proper name (philosophy). You might think about turning your attention to that article. (If you do discuss possible new material there, please use a shorter and less manifesto-like heading at its talkpage ☺.) In closing, I should remind you that Wikipedia articles work with reliable sources, not original research. This will apply at either article.
NoeticaTea? 02:35, 6 July 2012 (UTC)

The Gambia[edit]

relocated from User Talk:JHunterJ

I rv'd your change to proper noun because you introduced an error. However, looking into "the Gambia", nearly all of our subarticles (where the diff would show up) use lower-case "the". We might want to remark that caps vary, but I don't think we want to say that Gambia has a cap "The" while other names do not. — kwami (talk) 05:50, 7 January 2013 (UTC)

I didn't make the change; I rv'd your change because you introduced an error. See The Gambia's use of "The Gambia" in running prose, Capitalization#Places and geographic terms, Talk:The Gambia#The Gambia, Talk:The Gambia#Poll on name formatting, Talk:The Gambia#RfC: The Gambia or the Gambia (no consensus), Talk:The Gambia#Writing "[T]he Gambia" Violates Orthography Rules of English, Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style#Why the exception?, and Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style/Archive 129#The Gambia. -- JHunterJ (talk) 11:29, 7 January 2013 (UTC)
It's arguably not an error (it's what virtually all our sub-articles use in their titles), but changing the example works too. — kwami (talk) 19:14, 7 January 2013 (UTC)
I don't know what sub-articles you're referring to, but it's an error in that current WP consensus is to capitalize The Gambia (and The Hague, for example). -- JHunterJ (talk) 19:26, 7 January 2013 (UTC)
There are scores of articles with "the Gambia" in their titles. Hardly any are capitalized; those which are, like the Central Bank of The Gambia, tend to be set names rather than descriptions like List of heads of state of the Gambia or History of the Gambia. The stability of these articles since they were moved in 2010 suggests that there is a de facto consensus to not capitalize. — kwami (talk) 00:43, 8 January 2013 (UTC)


It is proposed that Proper noun (to which Proper name redirects) and Proper name (philosophy) be merged into one article.  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  22:29, 30 March 2015 (UTC)

This RfC tag and neutral statement were added later, to attract attention to a mostly moribund discussion.

Update: During the discussion period, the Proper name (philosophy) article has been redeveloped enough to stand as a separate article (as of 7 June 2015). The principle remaining concerns are 1) lack of any coverage of the philosophy angle (e.g. with a summary and {{Main}}) in Proper noun; 2) the question of moving this to Proper name, since it covers proper names generally, not just their noun forms; and perhaps 3) a severance at Proper name (philosophy) from more general treatment of proper names, that may reflect original research or at least fail to take into account reliable sources that treat the concepts as intimately related.  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  02:12, 8 June 2015 (UTC)

I think that before accusing others of OR you ought to somehow produce those reliable sources that you claim treat the topics as intimately related. Because accusations without supporting evidence are not nice. In grammar Proper names and proper nouns are distinct things, and the former is a subcategory of the latter. There is no basis for moving proper noun to proper name. ·maunus · snunɐɯ· 02:37, 8 June 2015 (UTC)
I already provided a bunch of sources in that regard (text-search the page for "Simons" to jump to them). Not interested in quarreling with you here about that any further. It's also pointless to continue discussing a move-or-not when so much has changed in one day, mooting the entire discussion for the short term. No merge is necessary or feasible at this point, so any rename discussion would be a separate RM, not part of a merge discussion.  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  07:15, 8 June 2015 (UTC)
The following discussion is closed. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section. A summary of the conclusions reached follows.
The merge proposal was effectively mooted by a rewrite of the merge-from article, so I (nominator) am rescinding the proposal.  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  07:06, 8 June 2015 (UTC)


  • I feel that the entire Proper name (philosophy) article should be merged into this article because the former article is not only unsourced and has hardly been touched, but it is filled with original research (complete with first-person speak). Erpert blah, blah, blah... 04:36, 24 February 2015 (UTC)
  • Merge the other way around Merge both into an article titled Proper name, and remove unsourced material from both, using this article as the main text to work from. Erpert, this article (Proper noun) is mostly unsourced, too. While it cites several sources, they actually source very little of the article, which is full of made-up examples that push a point of view. We need to instead think about what will make the best encyclopedia article when it's properly written, which neither of these is. "Proper noun" is a grammar-school oversimplification of proper naming. All proper nouns are proper names, but not vice versa. The base form of a proper name is the proper noun, but virtually any of them can also take the form of proper adjectives ("Italian", "Kafkaesque", etc.), many can be turned into verbs or adverbs, as well. Ergo, the central concept is the proper name, not noun. Next, this article, despite its name, actually addresses more than nouns, so it is trying sloppily to be an article on proper names, not nouns exclusively. Third, proper name redirects here already, so the intent is that it cover proper names. Fourth, no one has actually established any such thing as what Proper name (philosophy) implies, namely a completely distinct idea in philosophy called the "proper name" that has to be disambiguated from the same-named concept in linguistics and grammar; that idea appears to be nonsense, and the split of the article is clearly a WP:POVFORK. Furthermore, as far as I can determine, all debates and controversies about proper nouns are or derive from more central debates about proper names in general. I.e., no one (on WP or off) is really arguing about the "noun" part, but the "proper" part, e.g. what defines an actual name vs. a descriptive phrase or label, whatever "part of speech" it happens to be in any given case.  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  22:12, 30 March 2015 (UTC)
  • Support. I agree with merging them. They are not, as has been asserted condescendingly on this page in years past, separate topics; they are logically aspects of a whole. By the way, though, I just have to refute the assertion that examples in the current version, many of which I contributed or revised (although they've been substantially reworked since then by others), are there to "push a point of view". Forget Floor 3 if that one troubles you. Look at all the rest, such as south pole (specific designator) versus South Pole (proper name). Quercus solaris (talk) 00:44, 31 March 2015 (UTC)
Remainder of comment refactored to #How to write this article and its examples discussion subsection below, for detailed response; it's material about the rationale of the examples and our approach to writing the article, not about the question posted in the RfC.  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  18:26, 31 March 2015 (UTC)
  • Support The concepts are at least concordant enough to support the merge, though proper name (philosophy), contrary to some statements above, is indeed sourced and some of that sourcing is used to good effect, so I hope due effort will be exercised in merging the content in question into the unified article. I'd also argue strongly for maintaining this name space ("Proper noun") as the home for the article, as it is overwhelmingly the most common nomenclature for the term and, more importantly, the one used almost universally by our sources. Certainly reference to (and contextualization) for the term "proper name" should be included, but I think it's quite too-far a step towards compromise in trying to merge the concepts to adopt the other article's principle title over the present title of this article. Snow let's rap 00:11, 9 April 2015 (UTC)
  • Support – I don't much care in which direction or whether the result is called Proper noun or Proper name, but one article please, and clean up the informalities of the philosophy article in the merge, if someone is up for it. There's a useful source for some of this kind of analysis in this book that another editor pointed out some place I've forgotten. Dicklyon (talk) 00:15, 9 April 2015 (UTC)
  • Support – I don't have an opinion (because I don't have enough information) on whether it should be entitled "proper name" or "proper noun" but I don't see any separate topic in the (Philosophy) article. Actually, I can't find much in that article worth keeping at all; I found it incomprehensible and was unable to discern the points, if any it was meant to make. Bryan Henderson (giraffedata) (talk) 03:50, 9 April 2015 (UTC)
  • Oppose they do not seem to be synonymous or even similar. Proper name (philosophy) is a philosophical concept, proper noun is a grammatical concept. --Mr. Guye (talk) 00:48, 14 April 2015 (UTC)
    • A proper name is a linguistic concept as well. A proper noun is simply a proper name applied as a noun rather than an adjective or whatever (and it's almost always the base form of a proper name). The philosophy article covers (poorly) the approach in philosophy literature to the same concept. In theory one could develop a separate, proper article on the treatment of proper names in philosophy, per WP:SPLIT, if there was enough material. But this has not happened; it's just a WP:POVFORK.  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  20:16, 5 June 2015 (UTC)
  • Support – We should merge this whichever direction will (hopefully) achieve consensus. I also agree that both articles need sourced material and needs to be written in a clear and accessible form, keeping neutrality in mind. Hopefully someone out there is up to the task. Lozen8 (talk) 02:44, 17 April 2015 (UTC)'
  • Strongly Oppose - Those are two different things. A proper noun is a function of language. Sometimes Philosophers will think of terms to use, and all agree on them. I don't think this merge is a good idea. — Preceding unsigned comment added by OhWhyNot (talkcontribs) 05:31, 9 May 2015
    • See response above, to Mr. Guye.  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  20:16, 5 June 2015 (UTC)
  • Oppose. The philosophical discussion maybe warrant a subsection within the article on proper nouns, but it also deserves a standalone article where it can be developed more. Further argumentation: Proper nouns is a linguistic category that is opposed to common nouns - in linguistic proper names are different from proper nouns. In linguistics there is literature about how proper nouns are learned as contrasted with common nouns, there is literature about how different languages grammatically and syntactically distinguish between proper and common nouns etc. In Philosophy the debate about proper names is about semantics and logic - not about grammar, and proper names are treated as a logical category not a grammatical one. The two topics are separate both in their definitions, and in the bodies of literature that describe them. It is a very thin argument to consider two disciplinary perspectives on a similar but not identical topic to be a case of POV-fork. That is quite simply not what POV-fork means, because the division is not the result of a POV conflict among editors, but simply a result of there being two substantial but mostly non-overlapping bodies of literature about a subject that is related, but not identical. Currently the article Proper noun consists almost entirely of discussion about capitalization norms in English orthography - I would suggest splitting this out to an article Proper noun (orthography) since it has little relevance or relation to either the linguistic or philosophical topic. That way the main article could be about the grammar and linguistics of proper nouns, with disambiguation links to the pages on the philosophical and orthographical topics, which could also be summarized in subsections if deemed necessary.·maunus · snunɐɯ· 22:39, 5 June 2015 (UTC)
    • @Maunus: Whether it should have a properly developed article or not isn't at issue here. It does not, and Proper name (philosophy) will almost certainly be deleted at WP:AFD if it isn't merged. The question is whether to try to save anything at that article and merge it into this one, or just let it die.  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  20:52, 6 June 2015 (UTC)
I dont see that article as likely to be deleted, no. There are clearly substantial third party sources about the concept of proper names in philosphy. The current quality of the article is irrelevant for the question of whether it should be deleted. The topic and the philosophical problem it represents is notable separately from the linguistic category of the same/similar name.·maunus · snunɐɯ· 20:58, 6 June 2015 (UTC)
Well, see above; many clearly disagree, and have said why. You observed yourself that the treatment of proper names/nouns in philosophy could "warrant a subsection" here, which means that the philosophy approach to the topic is a subtopic of the subject of this article. No one appears to be satisfied with the content of the philosophy stub. Wouldn't it make sense to merge the actually sourceable material (which is very little of it) at the stub into this article as a section, and then see over time whether anyone has sufficient interest and materials to develop a proper philosophy split-off article, per WP:SUMMARY?  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  21:52, 6 June 2015 (UTC)
I have rewritten the article so that it now provides an overview of the philosophical question, links to the different major theories of proper names and their proponents and some references. It took me about 20 minutes, about the same time it would have taken to read and respond to your walls of text below. And probably only a fraction of the total editing time having been consumed by this merge discussion.·maunus · snunɐɯ· 00:23, 7 June 2015 (UTC)
Discussion in response to that post was moved to the #Discussion section, below.
  • Comment: See administrator note at Talk:Proper name: '07:00, 5 April 2009 Anthony Appleyard (talk | contribs) moved page Talk:Proper name to Talk:Proper name (philosophy) without leaving a redirect (Nearly all the links to this title are about capitalized nouns, not philosophy). This further suggests that what is presently Proper noun should be at Proper name.  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  21:52, 6 June 2015 (UTC)
  • Comment The article is now substantially longer than when this discussion began, includes sources and is written in a more encyclopedic tone. I invite everyone to revisit the article and then reconsider their !votes.·maunus · snunɐɯ· 01:22, 7 June 2015 (UTC)

*Merge tomorrow No new insight, really, it just seems like the thing to do, after reading the above. Proper name, of course. For what little it's worth, Monday's a proper name to me. No two are the same. InedibleHulk (talk) 01:42, June 8, 2015 (UTC)

  • Abstain In light of the update above splitting this into three things, I'm not sure what we're supposed to be doing here. So I can't make an informed choice. I still know Mondays are unique. InedibleHulk (talk) 02:39, June 8, 2015 (UTC)

The above discussion is closed. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section.


After Maunus's rewrite of Proper name (philosophy)[edit]

  • That is certainly an improvement, and probably saved Proper name (philosophy) from AFD. Doesn't change the fact that it's an unnecessary WP:POVFORK. One article can still treat proper naming generally, and including philosophical positions on the matter. The present article Proper noun should still move to Proper name, and at very least should include a WP:SUMMARY-style section on philosophy material, even if the philosophy article is retained instead of merged. Doing this would resolve the POV nature of the forking, and put an end to a boatload of falsely-injected confusion into the minds of readers (and, frequently, WP editors) that proper names and proper nouns are different topics. If we don't resolve this, it's quite likely that yet another POV fork will occur, trying to treat proper names from a liguistic, sociological, psychological, historical, etc. (i.e. everything but philosophical) perspective, more generally than nouns in particular, and we'll be right back where we started.  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  22:09, 7 June 2015 (UTC)
It is not a POV fork they are two separate topics. The linguistic category and the philosophical debate have very little incommon and represent two entirely different bodies of literature with almost no overlap. Proper noun should stay at proper noun because linguistics distinguish between proper nouns and proper names. So no.·maunus · snunɐɯ· 00:41, 8 June 2015 (UTC)
Linguistics [a singular noun, BTW] does not distinguish between proper nouns and proper names, other than noting the former is a subset of the latter. You're badly over-reaching here. The fact that you've sourced the philosophy article in a way that (despite being overall good work) seeks to isolate it from linguistics to prevent the merge doesn't change any underlying facts. That's called cherry-picking, and it's actually simply further evidence that this is a POV fork. That said, I'll concede that a total merge is essentially off the table at this point. There's enough material to support a separate philosophy article now, though it needs to be adjusted to undo the anti-everything-but-philosophy bias that has been introduced. This does not preclude the article presently at Proper noun moving to Proper name, and/or including a summary of the conceptualization of proper names in philosophy; it would be a poor article if it did not.  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  01:43, 8 June 2015 (UTC)

PS: A trivial proof that linguistics and philosophy are not totally severable, in general or on this issue: The journal Linguistics and Philosophy, founded in 1977, which regularly has articles on proper names from both linguistic and philosophical viewpoints, often simultaneously in the same article, e.g. "On the Linguistic Complexity of Proper Names", Ora Matushansky, Ling. and Phil. 31:5 (2008), pp. 573–627. Some of these go back to its early days, too: "Causality, Referring, and Proper Names", David S. Schwarz, Ling. and Phil. 2:2 (1978) pp. 225–233; this isn't some novel idea. Another cross-disciplinary example is "Traditional Theories of Proper Names", John L. Pollock, in Language and Thought (2014), Princeton U. Pr., pp. 40–54. We find journal articles in various disciplines, from sociology to psychology, English literature studies to anthropology, all treating proper names/nouns from a combined linguistic and philosophic viewpoint. A sharp divide between them on Wikipedia is an exercise in original research. The principal difference in approach is that philosophy focuses on the rationale behind and nature of proper names, while linguistics looks at the roles proper names play in language and our use of it, naturally focusing on their noun forms, since other forms (adjectival) etc., are derived. By comparison, philosophy, anthropology, psychology, and sociology would all look at team sports from different, respective viewpoints, but that doesn't mean that basketball is somehow transformed into a different encyclopedia topic when we address its treatment in different kinds of academic disciplines.  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  02:04, 8 June 2015 (UTC)

Thanks for the gratuitous condescension that I have by now come to expect of you, and thanks also for actually looking at literature about the topic you discuss which I have come to not expect of you, but which is nonetheless nice for a change. The fact that two articles in journals about the intersection of philosophy and linguistics treat proper names is of course not evidence of anything except that there is such a thing as philosophy of language where linguistic and philosophical topics intersect. And no, the topics are not "totally severable" and I have not claim they are, but I have claimed that they are only partly overlapping which is correct. In the philosopy of language no one cares about how proper nouns differ from common nouns and mass nouns or the syntactic differences between them. And in linguistics noone cares about the descriptive versus causal theory of naming (indeed the whole debate seems somewhat silly and naive to a linguist). And no, this is not OR, it is something else called "knowing what one is talking about" which comes from having spent time reading and studying a topic. That is something quite interesting and pleasant and I recommend that you try it one day. I will not comment any more in this discussion, but instead dedicate my energies to producing content for our readers. ·maunus · snunɐɯ· 02:49, 8 June 2015 (UTC)
We at last agree on something: The topics are partially overlapping. This is the very reason to cover the philosophy approach at least in summary at this article, or our readers will not even understand how they overlap. I notice the addition of the cognition and acquisition material, so you seem to also be wanting to develop this article to be more comprehensive, per WP:SUMMARY. I'm going to take this as a sign we won't be working at cross purposes. Cobbling together a semblance of a proper article at the other page with a handful of sources and a day or so "about 20 minutes" of reading doesn't magically mean one has achieved "knowing what one is talking about", however. The suggestion that 'In the philosop[h]y of language no one cares about how proper nouns differ from common nouns' is a clear demonstration. Philosophy journals and books frequently address this very topic; e.g.: "Logic and Common Nouns", P.M. Simons, Analysis 38(4): 161–7 (Oct. 1978); "Common and Proper" (chapter), Walter Hirtle, Making Sense Out of Meaning, McGill/Queen's U. Pr. (2013); Peter M. Simons; "The Property-theoretical, Performative-nominalistic Theory of Proper Names", Francesco Orilia, Dialectica 54(3): 155-176 (2000): "It is proposed that a proper name 'W' is a sortal common noun whose meaning is essentially tied ..."; "An Observation on Common Names and Proper Names", John Tienson, Analysis, 46(2): 73-76 (Mar. 1986); "The Logic of Common Nouns: An Investigation in Quantified Modal Logic", Anil Gupta, Journal of Philosophy 79(9): 512–517 (Sep. 1982); and on and on. The aforementioned Linguistics and Philosophy practically overflows with such material (and with the stuff you say linguists don't care about; I repeat that the very existence of that journal at all disproves the notion that these fields do not understand each other and do not share and commingle ideas). Way more to the point of this article rather than the one you've been working on more, so do journals in cognitive science, child development, neuroscience, etc., etc. Treating the topic of proper names as some kind of "linguistics vs. philosophy" pissing match is why these articles have unhelpfully diverged for so long (see timeline below). Proper names are a general topic of study in wide variety of fields, and they generally all involve some degree of philosophy. I'm glad you are concentrating, as you say, on producing content. But this: 'And no, this is not OR, it is something else called "knowing what one is talking about" which comes from having spent time reading and studying a topic.' – well, it sounds like exactly what WP:NOR is talking about: using actual or assumed personal knowledge of a field to analyze/evaluate/interpret/synthesize claims from primary sources, rather than getting them from secondary sources. How many secondary sources have you cited at Proper name (philosophy)? I'm not saying the article hasn't improved, but more care may be needed in primary-source usage. PS: "Condescension"? You mean like "which I have come to not expect of you", etc.? Please see WP:KETTLE, LOL.  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  06:56, 8 June 2015 (UTC)

Other disciplines than linguistics & philosophy[edit]

  • Source: "Proper name" is also used, in a manner consistent with this article, in other disciplines, e.g. cognitive psychology:

"Following linguists' definitions we will take proper names as names of unique beings or things. These include:

  • personal names (surnames, first names, nicknames and pseudonyms);
  • geographical names (names of cities, countries, islands, lakes, mountains, rivers and so forth);
  • names of unique objects (monuments, buildings, ships or any other unique object, e.g. Excalibur--the sword);
  • names of unique animals (e.g. Benji or Bugs Bunny);
  • names of institutions and facilities (cinemas, hospitals, hotels, libraries, museums or restaurants);
  • names of newspapers and magazines;
  • titles of books, musical pieces, paintings or sculptures;
  • names of single events (e.g. Kristallnacht).
Temporal names like names of days of the week, months or recurrent festive days will not be seen as true proper names. The fact that there is one Monday each week, one month of June and one Good Friday each year suggests that 'Monday,' 'June' and 'Good Friday' do not really designate unique temporal events but rather categories of events, and therefore are not true proper names."
— Tim Valentine, Tim Brennen and Serge Bredart, The Cognitive Psychology of Proper Names. Routledge (1996).

 — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  22:10, 6 June 2015 (UTC)

Relevant timeline of the two articles[edit]

This illustrates the nature of the POVforking and why we have the mess we do at present.

  • 4 June 2001‎ [2] - A page was created at Proper name; it was not an encyclopedia article, but a copy-paste of most of an essay and commentary called "Larry's Text" from the earliest times of Wikimedia, before Wikipedia and Meta had split, before talk pages even existed. It was general in nature, but did already include plenty of philosophy material.
  • 3 July 2002‎ [3] - A stub was created at Proper noun, using the linguistics approach. Note that nothing akin to an actual article existed at Proper name at this date, just some guy Larry's musings and some talk-page-style commentary on it.
  • 12 June 2003 [4] - Beginning of attempts to develop Proper name in an encyclopedic direction, with all new material inserted before all the "Larry's Text" material, and entirely focusing on philosophy. Whether intentional or not, this was a POVfork. What should have happened here is the "Larry" chatter should have moved to the talk page or been deleted, and Proper name and Proper noun material combined.
  • 25 April 2004 [5] - The bulk of "Larry's Text", reworked, was moved into the new article Sense and reference (which is a proper article today), and Proper name finally looked something like a regular Wikipedia article.
  • 5 November 2004‎ [6] - The Proper noun stub was redirected without explanation to Noun#Proper noun (which looked like this).
  • 20 October 2006 [7] - A new, more developed stub was introduced at Proper noun, again with a linguistic focus, and based on Noun#Proper noun as it had been for a while; the section at Noun became Noun#Proper nouns and common nouns, which then looked like this, a more prose-paragraph approach than the stub. This good-faith WP:SPLIT, along the lines we now document at WP:SUMMARY, was also a second, probably accidental POVfork, deepening the divide between Proper noun and Proper name.
  • 5 April 2009‎ [8] - The article now at Proper name (philosophy) was moved there from Proper name by an admin, and that short title was redirected to Proper noun: "Nearly all the links to this title are about capitalized nouns, not philosophy". That really remains the crux of the issue to this day. Very few readers or editors are looking for the philosophy-of-language onomastics material (which is what that is, as we'll soon see).
  • 7 September 2010 [9] - Material from Proper noun (as it had been developing) and Noun were combined into a proper article after another attempt to blank the one and redirect it to the other. It was explicitly disambiguated from Proper name (philosophy), so at this point the editorial pools at both articles knew they were working on partially overlapping material. Then the real trouble began.
  • 3 July 2012 [10] - By this point, some editors are trying to ensure that coverage at this one (Proper noun, to which Proper name redirects, along with Common noun) covers the material broadly without pushing a particular linguistics POV. These efforts are met with some resistance, leading to editwarring.[11][12] as well as some compromise [13]. But philosophy is largely glossed over: 'The study of proper names is sometimes called onomastics or onomatology; for a survey of detailed and pragmatic issues in naming see Name. Rigorous analysis of the semantics of proper names is a matter for philosophy of language; see Proper name (philosophy).' [14] We still have that treatment in the article today, instead of a proper summary of the philosophy material (which has recently been rewritten and sourced and is no longer a WP:AFD target).
  • 8 October 2012 [15] - The Proper noun article stabilized for a while, still with a possibly PoV-pushing linguistics perspective, but plenty of coverage in other fields, including cognition and language acquisition, etc., just not philosophy. Although one of the most active editors of the article retired from Wikipedia around this time, the article remained quite similar a year later [16]. A year later again, not much has changed [17].
  • 10 May 2015 [18] - Meanwhile, the Proper name (philosophy) article saw virtually no development for years, despite being flagged a pile of unsourced, unencyclopedically written OR.
  • 7 June 2015 [19] - Today, the Proper name (philosophy) has had many of these problems resolved, but is even further divided topically from the content at Proper noun. This is good for the former article's content, but points out how inadequate the coverage in the latter article is, treating (wrongly) the philosophy approach to proper names as if it were some unrelated topic.
  • 7 June 2015 [20] - Today, the Proper noun / Proper name article has been reorganized a little, e.g. so that cognition and acquisition (socio-psychological topics more than linguistic ones) are in a separate section. This is a solid move toward WP:SUMMARY style, and the first major step in a long time to having Proper name be more comprehensive instead of "the linguistics tine" of a Proper noun / Proper name (philosophy) POVfork. The still-extant "see elsewhere" commentary about philosophy indicates that the philosophy article itself has a comprehensiveness problem even in that field, since it may only be addressing "rigorous analysis of the semantics of proper names" from a philosophy of language viewpoint, which is not all of philosophy, and doesn't encompass all philosophy has to say about proper names, some of which could have been covered at Name but isn't at present (I haven't dug around in its history).

 — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  06:56, 8 June 2015 (UTC)

Now what, for this article?[edit]

Much of the above is moot at this point. I think the only thing to do now is work this article better from a WP:SUMMARY standpoint, so that it includes the kernel of the Proper name (philosophy) material, and is further expanded with treatment in other fields. It should still move to Proper name, but I guess there's no hurry. I have no particular bone to pick with the WP:FAITACCOMPLI editing spree at Proper name (philosophy) that mooted the merge discussion by making a merge impractical at best. WP:PROCESS can be important, but it does take a back seat to public-facing encyclopedic content production, and it is certainly true that Proper name (philosophy) is better now than it was a few days ago. But we're still left with what to do with this article, since we still need a general overview of proper names (including but not limited to proper nouns as "parts of speech" as most people were taught in school to conceive them). If anything is a field-specific little subtopic, it's the treatment of proper names as a class of nouns for syntactic analysis as such in linguistics (and I say that as someone with a degree in anthropology and linguistics). That can't reasonably be the main gist of WP's article on proper names, and we're already moving away from that (Maunus actually beat me to starting that, by adding the "Acquisition and cognition" section, covering stuff I was already gathering material for. :-) Some of the linguistic detail from 2012 has been lost, despite reliable sourcing. A Proper noun (linguistics) article could eventually WP:SPLIT from this after further development, and explore that material better.  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  06:56, 8 June 2015 (UTC)

How to write the article and its examples[edit]

This comment was (before reply) refactored to the Discussion subsection, from the !vote post of User:Quercus_solaris in the #Survey subsection, for detailed response on matters not germane to the RfC merge question.  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  18:26, 31 March 2015 (UTC)

What [the extant examples] are there to do, in fact, is to point out analytically how and why scores of style guides pick their own details on where to draw the line between proper names and specific designators and thus on whether to cap the latter (or, more precisely, on when they cap them and when they don't). Thus, how and why it is, for example, that AP style lowercases bureau on second reference to the Federal Bureau of Investigation when some other styles would not. Is a unique entity being referenced or not? Is one styling "wrong" and the other "correct"? If not, how can they both be normative? It is an objective fact (not a point of view) that the stylings listed in the examples to date conform to some style guides while not conforming to others. That fact can be traceably tied to style guides, point by point. And furthermore, it can be analytically explained why that is, even if some of the people who write and revise some of the major manuals of style have refused in the past to adequately deal with it, telling their readers, for example, that it's all just too complex to broach. These are real humans working in the editing trade, and not linguistic scientists, by the way, which admittedly neither am I, but then, as Steven Pinker pointed out, neither are most of the language mavens in the trade. I'm not worried about whatever gets done with this article this year or next—but I'll defend the legitimacy of the topic and its explication, even if others have sometimes failed to see some of the points. And that's not picking on anyone. That's simply defending the analysis. It is one on which those mavens have left their colleagues twisting in the wind. The discrepancies and why they exist are not academic imponderables when one's own payment depends on clearing up the muddiness with a client. Quercus solaris (talk) 00:44, 31 March 2015 (UTC)

That's a lot of points to examine. Driving right in:
  1. No one criticized every single individual example provided. In a separate section (below), I've disputed a specific one, for pushing one particular unsourced POV that doesn't agree with most sources on proper names. Above, I've observed, separately, that the examples taken as a whole have a POV problem; it's a different one, and I wasn't clear on that. It's that these "are" examples of what "are" problem names and we "do" use them, when what they really comprise is a list of WP editor opinions on how they use proper names. If they were properly sourced, they'd be a list of how various different sources approach proper naming, in conflicting ways, but we don't have that at present. It's not encyclopedic writing (yet). I've removed the most clearly disputed example, per WP:V/WP:NOR (it is unsourced and made up by an editor), and per your own statement to "Forget Floor 3 if that one troubles you."
  2. Your goal in rewriting the article this way ("What [the examples] are there to do, in fact, is to point out analytically...") sounds like it hovers close to the edge of original research, but could be salvageable. It may well be that "It is [an analysis] on which [style book] mavens have left their colleagues twisting in the wind." While we can do better, we can only do it in a particularly constrained way. The legitimacy of the topic isn't at question here, but the legitimacy of the present analysis could be. Our way of doing better isn't performing our own better analysis, it's finding the previously published analyses and making them digestible to our readership. When it comes to illustrative examples, I think what we probably need to do is either directly quote examples from sources, or very carefully mirror them in new wording, and cite the logic of the example to the source. It would probably be helpful to involve WP:WikiProject Linguistics editors in this process, since they have to do similar things in many articles and seem to have worked out how to provide examples without crossing the WP:NOR line, without violating WP:Copyright by copy-pasting them from sources, and without making our language articles a tedious flood of quotation marks.
  3. It is even more likely a WP:NOR problem to attempt to answer "how and why" the AP Stylebook (or whatever) lowercases something when another source does not, unless reliable sources tell us this is why. Otherwise, we're just inserting our own novel hypotheses as to why they are doing it. It is not our place to determine (in an encyclopedia article) whether one style is "wrong" and another "correct", only to report what most sources say, what conflicting RS say, and what the debate (in the real world) and its parameters are, when we can find sources on that debate. (This is distinct from WP internally deciding, at WT:MOS, what style WP will itself use as its house style when writing articles; it's easy to confuse these two types of "proper naming" discussions on Wikipedia, and they have been known to interact.) I think the merge-from article, Proper name (philosophy) has gone too far afield in this direction, and so do others, judging from its talk page. Then again, some similar criticisms are on this talk page, too. As for how and why, we should quote the RS that make statements in that regard, avoid editorializing or synthesis, and let the reader make up their own minds. A couple of statements from mainstream style manuals on the complexity of the matter is enough to establish for readers that it's considered complex, then we can follow this with an explanation of the allegedly complex issues, pulled from more reliable sources on them.
  4. I agree, certainly, that "It is an objective fact (not a point of view) that the stylings listed in the examples to date conform to some style guides while not conforming to others. That fact can be traceably tied to style guides, point by point. But this has not been done. Very little in this article is sourced. What has been done include (among good work) two problematic things. First, the article has been written in a way suggesting what "is" a proper noun and how it "is" defined, but this is a point of view being advanced, intentionally or otherwise. It's prescriptive grammar being prescribed in WP's own voice. The second is that this article and its examples have been gradually altered over the last several years to become more and more permissive, more and more vague, about what proper names/nouns are and how they are used (not linguistic description but OR reinterpretationism, to misconstrue loose treatment in some sources as loose or absent definitions in all treatment of proper names/nouns), while what else has happened during this time is that the "capitalize everything important to me and my field or I will fight you forever" position taken by some on Wikipedia has become increasingly strident and problematic. I don't think these two latter things are a coincidence, even though they may have nothing innately to do with the first, but have simply been "enabled" by it. But the odds are nearly non-existent that perennial naysaying against MOS:CAPS (with its rule that when in doubt, we do not capitalize) has not led to the massaging of this article to favor such an "everything important to my concerns must a proper name" viewpoint. I apologize if you thought I was singling you out specifically, but I did not name you or anyone else as part of any efforts to POV-push this article; I'm concerned about edits and their rationales, not editors.
  5. To get back to how we write the article (merged or not): What style manuals say to do with regard to proper names, and what examples they provide, are not necessarily the most reliable sources on this question anyway; they are secondary and tertiary sources, intended for average, practical use (i.e., they are how-to guides for the general public and some segments of it like university students and reporters). Papers in linguistics (and, yes, philosophy) refereed journal are going to be better sources for the meatier questions raised in baking this up to a featured article. The fact that academic journals will address these questions, yet and some viewpoints depend upon them not being addressed but remaining as vague as possible on WP, neatly explains the glaring POV fork, by the way. Re: "it can be analytically explained why [guides disagree], even if some of the people who write and revise some of the major manuals of style have refused in the past to adequately deal with it" – It's questionable, under WP:SYNTH whether this can be analytically explained in WP's voice. Someone else has to have published such an analysis, which we can then encyclopedically treat. Re: "These are real humans working in the editing trade, and not linguistic scientists" – This seems like ad hominem, and without foundation, on any point; linguists are also real people, working professionally in a field of endeavor involving language, and most of them are also writers/editors (cf. the academia imperative "publisher or perish"). It's rather like suggesting that only engineering, nursing and other applied science is meaningful science. Anyway, if we have sources in the sphere of grammar and style guides saying that proper naming is too complex a topic for them to treat in detail, this is important for two reasons:
    1. Our article should cover, and will have sources for, the fact that issue is considered complex by those specific authors of such guides (and in some case maybe in what ways they feel it is complex).
    2. This is actually proof that they're questionably reliable as sources on the deeper questions, since it constitutes their admissions of glossing over and avoidance of them for the expediency of their target audiences (mostly journalists, business writers, and students writing papers). This may be what you intended to convey yourself, with your paycheck-and-client comment. An approach like what I suggest would allow us to record the disagreements and confusions among experts of various types (journalistic, linguistic, philosophical), and present them for reader consideration, without having to engage in novel synthesis to provide an "analysis" and "explication".
  6. "Is a unique entity being referenced or not?" isn't necessarily an important question. If I ask "Where is Janet?", and my co-worker replies "I think she went to get more coffee", the pronoun "she", in this context, refers to a unique entity, our co-worker Janet, but it is not a proper name, and we do not write it as "She". This kind of "specific entity" confusion comes up very frequently in WP:RM discussions (which are about WP house style, but frequently reference this article and its topic). As one example among many, it has come up repeatedly whether to capitalize "marine" in reference to an individual member of the U.S. Marine Corp, when the word is not attached to their name as a title. It's yet another WP:Specialist style fallacy case (see its talk page for many others, though those, too, are just a drop in the bucket). Marines like to capitalize the word, in constructions like "The Marine [sic] returned to the U.S. in July 2014 after a second tour of duty." Journalists will often also do this (having been collectively berated by retired marines, in ranty letters-to-the-editor, for several decades) out of deference or at least a desire to stop being brow-beaten. Linguistically it's nonsense, and is pure politics and spin. It's from the same logic as "There is no such thing as a former Marine!", a common saying among retired marines. It's special exceptionalism, and a soup of several paired-up classic fallacies, including: appeal to accomplishment/appeal to authority ("This is the U.S. Marine Corps we're talking about here! And it's they way they officially do it."); appeal to emotion/appeal to flattery ("Marines are exempt from normal English language usage rules because of their importance and their heroic service"); and appeal to tradition/argumentum ad populum ("It just how we've always done it in the Marines, and so does anyone who respects the Marines.") This grammar-school reasoning has no place here, but the exact same pattern can be observed again and again with regard to alleged proper names in Wikipedia articles and their titles, from vernacular names of species and other groups of animals, to government and corporate job titles, descriptive names of events and periods, and on and on. Our failure to get this article right, and failure to watchlist it enough to keep it from being POV-pushed, are leading to a negative feedback loop, in which WP:RM is getting worse and worse on questions relating to this article's topic, while that slide into the mire is causing the article to degrade further, right along with it.
  7. An editorial concern about this article's content is that we must remember that simply capitalizing something conventionally (or not; cf. k.d. lang) doesn't necessarily determine whether it's a proper name. Many sources for particular audiences capitalize all sorts of things, for reasons that have nothing to do with proper naming, most often simply emphasis, but also for religious or other deference reasons, traditionalism (especially in legal and governmental writing) going back to a period in English when nouns were capitalized like they are in German (thus "May it please the Court, the Party of the First Part will..."), and so on. Back the the "bureau" example: If I own McCandlish's Book Store, and someone asks where I'll be this afternoon, the answer can correctly be "working at the store", but not "working at the Store". Capitalizing "bureau" by itself just because it happens to refer to the FBI is precisely the same kind of elitist, governmental fetishism, with the same attendant fallacies already listed, as always capitalizing "marine" when it refers to someone who served in the U.S. Marine Corp. This is not an article about capitalization, though it will need to distinguish between proper names and other uses of capitalization. It's just that typically proper names are capitalized, and the most common use of capitalization in English is to denote a proper name. As editors, we can legitimately observe that some sources do capitalize such things, why they say they do, and what sources they are, but we can't call it "the correct" way to do it, or say that these "are" proper names. That's the key WP:NPOV problem here.
  8. Something that needs better coverage in the article is the treatment of proper names in other languages, which have different capitalization rules (or, due to their writing system, do not have capitalization at all). The fact that proper naming (and proper nouns) is not a topic intrinsically limited to the English language is a strong argument in favor of merging these pointlessly split articles. The one here is attempting to address English language usage rules mostly, while the other is attempting (but with even less-sufficient sourcing) to address the broader concept. If we end up with an article so huge it lends itself into re-splitting per WP:SUMMARY, such that we end up with some Proper name (English language) main article, that's a bridge to cross if we come to it. It seems very unlikely.
 — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  18:26, 31 March 2015 (UTC)


  • Excellent discussion. Reading the above, I'm confident the article is in good hands, if you choose/have time to work on it. I do agree with your points. The store example is a good one.
  • A key passage (which I agree with) is "As editors, we can legitimately observe that some sources do capitalize such things, why they say they do, and what sources they are, but we can't call it "the correct" way to do it, or say that these "are" proper names. That's the key WP:NPOV problem here." In this instance, successfully achieving that (for this topic) could take a surprisingly large amount of work (i.e., how much work it will take versus how much work most people would assume it would take).
    • In some ways this is not surprising, in that we wouldn't be having the present discussion in 2015 if it had been easier and faster to do true/whole justice to this article 5 or 10 years ago.
    • Despite that hurdle, what may drive it to happen eventually is the frustration of dealing with the WP:RM smugness that you mentioned (i.e., people insisting that they are going to "explain" the "correct" casing to others).
  • I think you helped further clarify the last point in my mind ("or say that these "are" proper names"). In most places around Wikipedia, we are used to being able to say "what something is" and "what it isn't", even though that often includes a helping of "some people say this, many people say that." But in most ledes, despite that circumspection, the bottom line is still that we are able to state "An X is a Y with traits ABC." Whereas on this one, there's more to it—it is going to take a higher level of that, in both the epistemology/ontology and the pedagogy for exposition. (Which is to say, not only in "here's the variability in defining what the topic is" but also in "here's how we convey that to you, reader, succinctly enough for you to digest it.") Thus, building this article the right way touches on epistemology, and I stand by that statement, having said it before on this talk page, when a misguidedly smug editor tried to act like I was an idiot for saying it. Along the lines of "that's a Special Word and you should have Special Training before you dare to utter it." F that—that's its own form of simplemindedness (trying to appear erudite); after all, it doesn't take a philosophy PhD to see that a wide scope is involved. Rather like it doesn't take a surgeon to *see* that frank trauma requires surgery, despite that it takes a surgeon to *do* the surgery.
  • My efforts at this article a few years back (haven't done much substantial since then; it has subsequently changed over time)—my efforts at this article a few years back probably did not step far enough back from (1) "what something is"/"what it isn't" and (2) "what people usually tend to say it is (which definition is inadequate given the observable boundary cases) and what definition one could give instead that might be adequate" to arrive at (3) "what people usually tend to say it is, why that definition isn't wholly adequate, what other published sources say, and that's about all an encyclopedia can report on the subject."
  • I still don't know if the topic of this article can truly have full justice done to it without WP:OR, because I'm not confident that published sources to date cover it adequately. I do acknowledge your themes that the latter is possibly true (goto JSTOR mentioned later) or that we can at least get a lot closer than we have yet. Having banged on a lot of style and usage guides, I don't think the full picture is covered there. For example, AP and AMA don't give an explanation of their casing choices—they just tell the reader, in so many words, "this is how we case this; this is how we case that." Possibly a full picture is covered in the linguistics literature (goto JSTOR), which I am not versed in and could not bring to bear here. Hope someone who can eventually does.
  • Well, once again I am shocked at how many words just came out of me. Apologies. On the bright side, this may be it—I doubt I've got any more such text walls in me, having covered it all exhaustively. Best regards, Quercus solaris (talk) 02:05, 3 April 2015 (UTC)

Disputed example[edit]

I believe Rose lives on Floor 3 of the Main Building. This shows two cases of incorrect capitalization. "Main building" is just a distinguishing description, not an arbitrary, evocative, or metaphoric one, and so is not a proper name. This goes double for "floor 3", which is simply a numeric label. Using ordinal vs. cardinal numbers doesn't magically make a common noun phrase into a proper name. I suspect this bogus example was added to influence the outcomes of WP:RM discussions. It's certainly being used that way. There can be conventional exceptions to this kind of naming pattern being a common noun phrase, but it's only when virtually all sources agree to treat it as a proper name. One example would be the South Tower of the World Trade Center; it was a massive landmark that co-dominated the New York City skyline and thus naturally lent itself to being treated as a proper name like any other landmark. Nothing like that applies to the south tower of some random apartment building (even if residents tend to think of it as the "South Tower" and the landlord spells it that way). A specific floor 3 in such a building being treated as a proper name is unsourced nonsense.  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  15:42, 29 March 2015 (UTC)

I'd agree, but that would make the sentence unfit for human consumption. If "Floor 3" is decapitalized it would have to be changed to 'third floor' or '3rd floor', so the sentence itself, as incorrectly worded, is no longer relevant. The 'main building' would only be capitalized, if I'm correct, would only be capitalized if the building was named 'Main', as in 'The Main Building is named after Ted Main, the luckiest black-jack dealer this side of the Pecos.' The sentence itself maybe should be shown the door ('The Door' if someone points to one of the founding members of "The Doors", a phenomena of their time. Phenomenas of their time should, in most cases, be capitalized). Randy Kryn 18:18 29 March, 2015 (UTC)
I agree with your second point entirely; "Main" would have to be a proper name itself, as in your example. As for your first point, I can't agree, because it's entirely normal in modern English usage, especially in technical writing, to use cardinal numbering instead ordinal. There is no "requirement" or "necessity", as your "would have to be changed to" wording implies, to use "third floor" instead of "floor 3". It's perfectly standard English to write either "the third chapter of Sotero's book" or "chapter three of Sotero's book", and in the second case it would only be "Chapter Three of Sotero's book" if Sotero actually titled it "Chapter Three". We use many, many constructions of the "floor three" sort in everyday English. That said, I agree it's clearer, more traditional, and less likely to confuse anyone into thinking a proper name was intended if we use ordinal numbering in such situations ("third chapter", etc.). Regardless of this disagreement, we clear do agree that the example in the article is faulty.  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  22:05, 30 March 2015 (UTC)
SMcCandlish, you laid your finger on the pivot point ("[doesn't apply] ... even if"), but no, the fact that both styles exist turns out not to be nonsense at all, as found by some professional editors who have to take crap from both sides of the argument, because "[doesn't apply] ... even if" turns out to be an assertion of preference, not a statement of universal logic. But what you see in this article currently is only the incomplete remnants of a legitimate, traceable/repeatable analysis of the spectrum that contains both proper nouns, as conventional pedagogy treats them, and specific designators, which are treated inconsistently across style manuals (and smaller house styles and project styles). I had to give up caring, for the most part, what anyone did with it at this Wikipedia page, because it's an area of English orthography that currently lies in the cracks between linguistic description and the prescriptions of the language mavens (to use Pinker's apt name for them)—prescriptions that are often dueling and sparring while being imagined to be "the only possible correct answer". There's as yet a dearth of competent sources to cite for the overall analysis, despite that it is logically unavoidable enough for some editors who are forced to deal with conflicting styles and to explain to complainants why they differ and why the complainants should stop wetting their pants over it. Since it turned out that the complete analysis can't survive in this Wikipedia article, I'm planning to post the whole thing in userfied form when I get the time and inclination. Mostly just so people who have wet their pants about the topic can get some drying off somewhere, even if that location turned out not to be the main namespace of Wikipedia. Here's the lead-in: Did you ever wonder why you can go to any one of hundreds of city halls and say (for example, to someone on the other end of a mobile phone conversation) "I'm at City Hall right now"? Suppose you're in, say, Peoria at the moment. Gee, that's funny, there's also a unique city hall in, say, Chicago, too. And they're both called "City Hall", with capital letters and no other explicit signifiers, within the implicit context of a particular conversation. But gee, when you think about it, how is that possible? After all, isn't it true (according to what citable sources have told you) that the concept of proper names—including both proper nouns and proper noun phrases and any other proper substantive anything in your philosophy, regardless of whichever term you want to apply to entities that are unique within an implicit context—applies only when the implicit context is the whole world? After all, that's how schoolbooks and even reference works have implicitly talked about them to date, right? Not that they explicitly stated that, but that they implicitly treated them that way. But meanwhile, anyone who has worked in editing and has been forced to deal with conflicting styles (such as one project style using terms such as Type 2, Class B, Level 4, or hundreds of other such examples, whereas another one uses type 2, class B, and level 4), and been called on the carpet for why one was used rather than another, can deduce (if they're good enough at their jobs) that whether you have a "logical" reason for capitalizing such a term depends on the scope of the implicit context in which that entity is unique, and whether any scope other than "cosmically", that is, "universe-wide", is accepted for the threshold of uniqueness. The acceptance is usually not conscious or explicitly analyzed—it's usually based on people's gut reactions and unconscious assumptions. For example, you had the gut reaction today that capping "Floor 3" is ridiculous and indefensible. But guess what? Somehow "I'm at City Hall right now" didn't piss you off so much, right? OK, now start analyzing the spectrum that those two instances lie on—how they're alike and how they're different. Now meet every project style guide that specifies caps for such things, such as, for example, medical publications that insist that the classes of the New York Heart Association Functional Classification have to be styled as Class I and Class II rather than class I and class II (in all references) because, well, that's how we're used to seeing them, and we have to pick a consistent style even if it's a bit arbitrary, but really we can rationalize that it's not arbitrary but rather "based on objective logic" because the explicit signifier, Class II with a cap C, refers implicitly to a cosmically unique thing, which is the NYHA's second class for heart failure. But wait, shouldn't that then be the NYHA's Second Class, with caps, because it's cosmically unique? And what about the fact that AMA style lowercases class I and class II? Is the AMA spouting nonsense? What about the first of the world wars? It's the world war that came first. There have been others. But somehow, if you don't capitalize First World War you're an idiot, right? Is that logic, or is it widespread convention? OK, now talk to me about the Office of the Comptroller, and about how on second reference you're going to call it the office, not the Office, because you're working to AP style and that treatment is consistent therewith, even though another house style would have you capping it. There's a lot more exploration and arguing you can do with this, but the bottom line is, what most people tell you at the end of such a conversation is that "it's all very complicated, so you should just follow whichever style you were instructed to follow." Yes, you should follow that style, but no, it's not because the topic is so very complicated; as for who sets that style and what their logic for it was, when you're the one in that seat declaring your style for specific designators, you just need to decide whether you accept the limits of a particular implicit context as sufficient to warrant partially explicit signaling of uniqueness. For example, you'll refer to a particular city hall as City Hall with caps (one explicit signal), but you won't call it Peoria City Hall (inserting another explicit signal) within the context of our conversation where it's already obvious that we're in Peoria, because natural language doesn't work that way. You'll accept calling it the Office of the Comptroller, but on second reference you'll talk about the office (not the Office), and meanwhile, there's another comptroller across town in a different organization who also has an office, so Office of the Comptroller with caps is a specific designator, not a proper noun phrase, just as class II and floor 3 also are. But wait, you capped the one but not the others? While someone else writing a different style guide directed that all of them would be capped? OK, fine, that's perfectly acceptable, but let's stop setting our hair alight about alleged nonsense or alleged logic and just admit that this is an aspect of English orthography that has never yet been universally standardized, just like the spelling hasn't either, because your flavour and colour don't match my flavor and color. And spelling and specific designator capping aren't the only aspects that aren't universally standardized. Let's have the conversation about en dashes sometime, right? Or double quotes versus single quotes! Clearly one of them is nonsense! Let's use objective logic to figure out which one! Anyway, kidding aside, sometime I'll post that userfication. Quercus solaris (talk) 20:04, 29 March 2015 (UTC)
Too much for me to respond to right now, but I'll come back to it when I have some time to go through this. One quick response: For AMA / NYHAFC "Class I" stuff, that's a patent case of the WP:Specialist style fallacy. Virtually every profession and even avocation capitalizes "important stuff" within their purview, to "bignote" it, in writings internal to or intended for audiences in that field, and it's a style WP does not emulate. If we did attempt to ape this, then literally millions of noun phrases on WP would have to be capitalized, because they are terms of art in some specialty somewhere, be it biochemistry or RPG games or skiing or astrophysics. I'll get to the rest later, but the short version of this point is that WP doesn't care what the the American Medical Association or New York Heart Association Functional Classification style expects in medical journals, because WP is not the AMA or NYHAFC, WP is not a journal, and WP editors and readers, in the aggregate, are not doctors, nurses or med students reading and writing papers in such journals. We have our own house style. More to the point of this article, which is about proper names/nouns in general, it's a NPOV problem and original research to advance an AMA NYHAFC style preference, which is for reading speed and clarity in a specific kind of writing within a specific field, as evidence that terms the AMA NYHAFC would capitalize are in fact proper names. (Note that these are separate points – the first is about WP taking a position on the matter internally, and the second about what we present to the public in an article.) It's fallacious reasoning, and misinterpretation of the data to go that route. "All that glitters is not gold." Every single thing capitalized by someone somewhere in some context is not demonstrably a proper name. If we have reliable sources that discuss a disagreement over what does or doesn't constitute s proper name/noun, on this particular basis, we can outline that disagreement in the article, and cite sources for it. But it's wrong to push the example I've disputed as fact, when that assertion is clearly not universal. Per WP:V, that example needs to be removed, as unsourced and controversial.  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  22:05, 30 March 2015 (UTC)


  • Granted it was too much to go through. Sorry about that—I do know better—this is just one of the very rare topics that bring a regrettable wall of text out of me, because of how I've had to hash out the aspects of the topic with people in my industry. If you'll stick with me in the following, I promise I'll make it worth your time.
  • First, I support you editing the article as you'd like. You can remove that example, and I don't object.
  • But the themes of my comment were not what you may have thought. (I'm breaking this reply out into bullets for better clarity than my unfortunate wall of text achieved.)
  • I wouldn't want anyone to skip or skim my analysis above and never give it due thought, hoping to refute it, because it seemed to threaten how they'd prefer to edit this article. Rather, I'd rather that you, or anyone, calmly stepped through it sometime and followed it point by point, knowing that it's no threat to your preferences for this article. The reason I wish that is because it points out the true scope of the topic, which I wish more people would come to understand.
  • My point is not that the example must stay—my real point was explaining why having it here would not be wrong, because the underlying object that it gets at is not illegitimate for broaching in this article; but also, sadly enough, that this article can't do justice to its own topic at the present time, no matter what gets done to it, because the WP:RSs it would need to rely on for that mission sadly don't yet exist as of this writing, as far as I have ever been able to find (although I suspect they may 10 or 20 years from now).
  • It's hard to talk about this aspect concisely because even the thick style manuals of the world, to date, which could serve as RSs, have never yet provided adequate analysis—they've just been among the ones who've said, "It's all very complicated", with a hint toward ineffability (reminds me a bit of the unjustifiably haughty dismissal that "nobody sees the wizard!"). But it's actually not ineffable. It just requires analysis that others have so far refused to do.
  • As an aside, AMA style lowercases (not capitalizes) specific designators, and I agree with doing that—it's other styles that invoke the specialist style fallacy (which I, like you, don't agree with as a determiner of WP:MOS style), but ...
  • Professional editors have to follow whichever style the client has specified (not what they themselves feel is most logical), and, unfortunately, on top of that, they have to explain to complainants (clients, readers, or clients who were kicked by readers) what the "real story" is behind the variability of style, which reaches all the way into description/prescription and the topic of the context of the uniqueness and thus the spectrum that links proper nouns and specific designators.
  • But the more important point is that this article is not about Wikipedia's own style—rather, it's about encyclopedic coverage of proper nouns, including their standard orthography, which broaches English orthography (both descriptive and prescriptive) and what styles get followed out there in the world of many, many style guides. When you mentioned, for example, "it's a style WP does not emulate. If we did attempt to ape this ...", you're setting up a question of "What style is Wikipedia going to choose for itself?" That (which is WP:MOS) is actually not my point in any of this. Rather, this article is about the nature of what (1) proper nouns/noun_phrases/names/substantives and (2) specific designators are (two topics which are not logically separable, although the "it's-all-so-ineffable" crowd wishes they were), and relatedly (although they wish it weren't related), the orthographic treatment that gets applied to them because of what they are (that is, more precisely, because of what users of the language perceive them to be, which follows certain recurring themes but also includes some variability that can be analyzed).
  • A concrete example of the distinction ("this article is not about Wikipedia's own style—rather, it's about ...") is that the Wikipedia article on dashes talks about what they are and how people use them (which is not universally standardized), not about WP's own choice of dash style. And that's why the page dash is not the same page (nor even in the same namespace) as WP:MOSDASH.
  • Anyway, thank you very much for hearing me out. All the best in editing the article. I plan to post my userfied content, when I get time and inclination, for the purpose of addressing the bigger picture above. Not that it will be a Wikipedia article—it'll be in another namespace—but it will exist in writing somewhere discoverable, which is more than has been accomplished so far, even among the haughty door attendants of the wizard; and it may help spark the milieu in which someday, X years from now, those RSs will finally exist, because people became aware of the gaps that existed to date. Quercus solaris (talk) 00:00, 31 March 2015 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── It is a complex topic, so I'm not complaining about the length, I just didn't have time. Breaking up into bullets as you did in later reply, or numbered points (as I did in RfC response) helps make it manageable. I'll now try to address the first part, then your re-reply, in series.

  • The fact that different sources recommend different styles is a fact, but it's a fact about style in Modern English in different contexts, not a fact about the underlying proper names and what a proper name is. I've proposed in some detail in the RfC above how to tackle this in ways that comport with WP:V, WP:RS, and WP:NPOV and WP:NOR.
  • [W]hat you see in this article currently is only the incomplete remnants of a legitimate, traceable/repeatable analysis of the spectrum that contains both proper nouns, as conventional pedagogy treats them, and specific designators, which are treated inconsistently across style manuals (and smaller house styles and project styles)." I agree, except that WP is not in a position to do such an analysis, per WP:NOR, only report on and summarize previously published analyses, otherwise letting sources speak for themselves. I cover this in more detail in the RfC.
  • I agree that the capitalize-this-or-don't kind of question (which is not the proper naming question, really) is "an area of English orthography that currently lies in the cracks between linguistic description and the prescriptions of the language mavens (to use Pinker's apt name for them)—prescriptions that are often dueling and sparring while being imagined to be "the only possible correct answer".' But I don't think this is a reason to "give up", just a reason to work more carefully on our article.
  • I look forward to your userspace essay. I have to point out, though, that no one "says", on the phone, "City Hall" in capital letters, since that's an aural medium. Heh. And many of us would not "think" that in capital letters. I would think "Oakland City Hall" in capital letters, that being the actual name of the building, but not "city hall" which is just what kind of building it is. Another demurrer would be that, no, proper names do not have to unique across the world. I believe that our own article makes this point clearly. This is why many geographical names are disambiguated here. There's a Jefferson County in probably every US state, for example. I realize you're not making that point yourself, but criticizing it. Yet it's totally unnecessary to do so; everyone old enough to possess basic language skills already knows this, since they've met two people named Bobby or Janet, e.g. one relative and one kid in kindergarten. You're not elucidating any mystery, there. I'm not convinced that the type 2, class B, and level 4 cases have much to do with scope of the uniqueness of the case, but rather the scope of the audience and its involvement with it. In my business project memos, I may refer to "Phase II of the Company's new Business Plan", for people I'm working with, to "big-note" these terms with contextual significance for us. But I would never do this when communicating with someone external to the organization, e.g. a friend interested in what I was doing that afternoon (I'd write I was "working on phase II of our company's business plan"). One of the worst sins of business, PR and marketing writing is misapplying this "insider" capitalization style in material intended for an external audience. If I may wax anecdotal: I successively worked at two organization that respectively did and did not grasp this; the latter, capitalizing everything it could, was not taken very seriously by many people and failed to attract sufficient funding, despite the underlying quality of the work and importance of the mission (not Mission!) being comparable. I think this kind of poor writing really did have a lot to do with the funding failure and collapse of that group, which was mostly a matter of writing grant proposals, issuing press releases, and otherwise attracting potential donor and journalist attention with the written word.
  • Regardless, your "scope of the implicit context in which that entity is unique" hypothesis is original research, from what I can tell, so I don't see how anything about it could be factored into this article (whether it's merged with the other one or not).
  • "The acceptance is usually not conscious or explicitly analyzed" – This is true of, e.g. WP:RM debates, and frankly of many grammar and style guides, including Chicago Manual of Style especially, which is among the most conservative and prescriptivist, even admitting in places that what it advises is illogical and being recommended out of pure traditionalism. It's not true of linguistic and philosophical treatments of the topic, and the desire of some parties to keep it mysterious and loosy-goosy (perhaps especially so that this article can be mis-cited in RM discussions as if it were a reliable source), while others want to treat the subject more academically, is clearly why the POV-fork happened in the first place and we have two articles in pointless conflict.
  • I wasn't clear enough about my rationale, I guess. '[Y]ou had the gut reaction today that capping "Floor 3" is ridiculous and indefensible.' It wasn't a gut reaction, it was an informed one, after years of debates about this sort of thing, and principally a reaction to this being presented an an example of proper nouns, when it's really (except for the example woman named Rose) only an example of capitalization style favored by certain journalistic camps (low-register ones, mostly). 'But guess what? Somehow "I'm at City Hall right now" didn't piss you off so much, right?' I didn't analyze all the examples in any detail. I was led (back) to this article by someone trying to cite the "Floor 3" example at RM as "proof" that something should be capitalized in WP prose when clearly it should not, per MOS:CAPS. This "City Hall" example is a poor one, because sources and real-world usage will conflict on this, even in journalism. Same goes for other descriptive labels like metropolitan court, business district, etc. In some cases these are officially designated proper names (the name of Albuquerque's county jail in Bernalillo Co., New Mexico, is "the Metropolitan Detention Center", and it's logo is a stylized MDC. It's not named the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center (BCMDC), or Albuquerque Metropolitan Detention Center (AMDC), though it could be described with those phrases (not pseudo-acronyms) for clarity. It is properly capitalized. Same goes for the unrelated US federal Metropolitan Detention Centers. If the Jackson Co., Mississippi county jail, however, is named the Jackson Metropolitan Detention Center (JMDC), then it's incorrect in formal writing to capitalize a shortened reference to it as "the Metropolitan Detention Center" or call it by the shortened acronym MDC (though locals might do the latter in lower-register speech as a shorthand, and local journalists might do the former, because they simply don't care about the formalities). The Albuquerque case is an outlier. Most official things of this sort include the name of the jurisdiction in their names, and this includes city halls. I think it would be difficult to find a city hall anywhere formally named only "City Hall". As an example in the article, it should only be used to illustrate how sources can differ on treatment of such a building/campus, and cite them on this point. It shouldn't be used an example of "this is a proper name". FWIW, MOS:CAPS would probably decapitalize this in non-quoted speech, though I think some might argue about whether to capitalize it in this construction, "Moscone and Milk where shot at City Hall", vs. this one, "Moscone and Milk were shot at the city hall". Presence of "the" isn't some universal key, either; "the Colorado River" is still a proper name, and still capitalized. We needn't get into all that in any detail here, since in the article it'd be a matter of finding sources that discuss such a distinction, and this talk page isn't the place for a MOS discussion.
  • 'Now meet every project style guide that specifies caps for such things, such as, for example, medical publications that insist that the classes of the New York Heart Association Functional Classification have to be styled as Class I...' WP doesn't care about these, either for this article (they're not reliable sources on linguistics, philosophy, or language usage; WP:SSF goes into this in detail), or for MOS discussions (we do not ape the house style of journals, etc., in specific topic areas, but have our own house style for consistency across the encyclopedia).
  • First World War and other names for events and long series of events treated often as a whole: These become proper names through time, by convergence on a description until it is used so consistently it becomes a name (often supplanting an older one, e.g. the Great War in that case). This is why most sources will say "this could lead to a third world war" (not "...Third World War"), BTW; there is no such event to which that phrase could apply as a name. This sort of case is different from things that come with names already, like county jails and city halls; the cases are not comparable for purposes of this discussion. It's a completely different naming issue, even at the philosophy level. This too is the subject of a large number of recent and ongoing RM discussions, in which some parties want to capitalize all quasi-conventional phrases like "the Watts Riots" and "the Civil Rights Movement", others (mostly American leftists) want to capitalize them whether conventional or not, to "big-note" them ("all Civil Rights Movements around the world"), and others want to decapitalize all of them absent strong evidence that they're treated as the conventional name of the event[s], not simply one descriptive label among many.
  • Re: "the Office of the Comptroller, and about how on second reference you're going to call it the office, not the Office" – yes, per MOS:CAPS, just "the office" by itself would be lower case in WP articles. This comports with most external style guides as well. Capitalizing such a case borders on the archaic at this point. Again, though, this is a capitalization style matter, not a proper names/nouns matter. In Tucson, Arizona, the Office of the Comptroller is the Office of Comptroller, a proper name (more precisely, it's officially probably the "Tucson Office of the Comptroller" or "Office of the Comptroller of Tucson"; I'd have to see their documents to be sure). It's also distinguishable from city hall vs. City Hall because it's the name of an official division of the local government, not really the name of an office in the sense of a building or part of a building. In many cities, the Office of the Comptroller occupies multiple buildings, just as the National Intelligence Agency isn't an agency in the sense of an office in which some agents are sitting. This isn't true of a city hall, which is a one-or-multi-structure geographical location in which various unrelated govt. functions are performed. Similar reasoning can be brought to bear on metropolitan court as procedural system, the Metropolitan Court as a division of government, metropolitan courts as a plural reference to divisions of government that are not all actually directly comparable, the Metropolitan Courthouse if it is really named that, the metropolitan courthouse if it's actually named the Jackson Court Building, etc. People confuse names with roles with labels with descriptions.
  • The orthographic matters, as such, really are just that, and we have a manual of style for our use that tells us how to work through it. The problem comes up when there is a disagreement about whether something is a proper name or not, since that will (in most style guides, including ours) usually determine which orthographic rule to apply. Because of this, I don't think this actually is comparable to the hyphen vs. en dash debate, in which we know for fact that these have specific, distinct uses (even if some guides elide them), but some editors want to ignore it for convenience reasons. It's even less comparable to the double vs. single quotes matter, which is almost unique to WP. It was too complicated, for thousands of editors to constantly get right in every article, to tie this to WP:ENGVAR, and it turns out the styles are not entirely national, anyway, with increased usage of double outside and single inside even in British writing, especially academic and technical writing, which are much closer to encyclopedic writing that journalistic usage (and even that's not consistently single-outside in British and Commonwealth English). The only long-term fact about quotation mark usage that's really relevant on WP is that double-outside, whether "predominantly" North American or not, is rapidly becoming the norm in English and now in many other languages, due to the influence of the Internet. For better or worse. These kinds of concerns don't seem to relate much to either proper naming or capitalization orthography (except perhaps in the negative - the propensity of the half-educated to use capitalization as simple emphasis is clearly leading to a rise in the number of people who want to do that in formal writing by treating anything "important" as if it were a proper name.
  • "[T]he underlying object that [the controverted example] gets at is not illegitimate for broaching in this article" – Agreed; it's not one that contains three examples of proper nouns, nor one that contains three examples of what most sources would capitalize. The underlying object, that sources disagree about orthography in some cases, is valid, but needs proper sourcing.
  • "[T]his article can't do justice to its own topic at the present time... – Agreed; thus the merge discussion, and other topics about article improvement. But: matter what gets done to it, because the WP:RSs it would need to rely on for that mission sadly don't yet exist as of this writing – That, I doubt. They're probably in journals, and one would need JSTOR or similar access to find them. It's better that the article cover the topic as accurately as we can source it until we find more source to improve it, than include unsourced material that leads to dispute.
  • I concur with you that this sort of discussion is necessarily long and detailed, but ultimately is not ineffable at all.
  • NYAHFC vs. AMA style: Noted; I was skimming fast and got them backwards. My point remains, though: We wouldn't adopt what AMA does (which MOS:CAPS actually agrees with in this case, coincidentally) on the basis that the AMA does it, but because it's what makes the most sense for our readers.
  • Agreed, on what professional editors and writers have to put up with; I've been in those shoes, as editor of what was at the time one of the most widely-read online newsletters, with multiple writers from different organizations and backgrounds, and a fairly diverse audience.
  • Agreed on the distinction between what this article is about and what WP does internally with MOS and RM; I've been trying to explicitly draw this distinction because of the frequency which which this article (a descriptive piece about the world) gets brought up in RM and style discussions as if it somehow trumped MOS when it comes to how we write and title articles here (a prescriptive matter).
  • Thanks, too, for taking the time to address all this thoughtfully.

 — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  21:27, 31 March 2015 (UTC)


I think this article needs a section on the subtleties of plural forms often being common where they would be proper singularly. Like: The 3rd Battalion. The 3rd and 8th battalions. Also, an experienced editor told me that this convention is not followed in Aussie English. Anyone know anything about that? Primergrey (talk) 02:51, 29 April 2015 (UTC)

Good point. Reliable sources on style actually disagree on this point, and Chicago Manual of Style actually explicitly reversed itself in the last edition. There are really two different questions here, one is whether "the 3rd Battalion and the 8th Battalion" (referring to specific battalions) becomes "the 3rd and 8th Battalions" or "the 3rd and 8th battalions" (still referring to specific entities); the other is whether to capitalize in the case of something like "just about every army has a 3rd battalion", where the referent isn't a specific entity, but a general class. These questions probably relate strongly to, e.g., whether the California Academy of Sciences is properly shortened to "the academy" or "the Academy", but I'm skeptical we can find a reliable secondary source discussing it in this manner. We'll probably just be able to source what various style manuals say about each kind of case.  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  20:09, 5 June 2015 (UTC)