Sometimes it’s the little things that have the biggest reaction.
You can make major structural changes to a proposed piece of copy and nobody bats an eyelid.
Tone of voice, format, sentence length – it’s all up for discussion.
But try removing capital letters from someone’s job title and you’ll soon hear the sounds of protest.
We’ve heard plenty of them over the years.
“It just doesn’t look very important,” said one senior account manager, seemingly stripped of all his previous powers from his time as a Senior Account Manager.
When we mentioned it to a chief executive, she said: “Don’t be silly, you always capitalise jobs.”
“What about butcher, baker, binman? Would you capitalise those?”
“No, but they’re just butchers and bakers.”
After a polite explanation that professional snobbery doesn’t dictate punctuation and grammar, things eventually settled down.
But that’s not an unusual situation.
So many businesses – and their employees – seem to be in a state of complete shock when it’s highlighted that job titles are lower case affairs.
Pay attention to the news and you’ll see lower case job titles everywhere. Alex Ferguson was manager of Manchester United, never Manager of Manchester United.
Let’s look at how newspapers refer to the boss of Marks & Spencer’s:
Marks & Spencer’s new chief executive is reviewing the future of its range of fashion brands including Classic and Per Una as part of an overhaul of its struggling clothing business.
Clothing sales have grown in only one quarter over the past five years and, in his first presentation to the City as chief executive, Steve Rowe said its performance was “unsatisfactory” and improving it was his “number one priority”.
“Our priority is fixing clothing,” said Rowe, who reiterated that he would continue to lead the division himself rather than hand responsibility to another executive.
Here are the verdicts of three other authorities:
First, The Guardian’s specific advice on job titles is unequivocal.
“jobs all lc (lower case), eg prime minister, US secretary of state, chief rabbi, editor of the Guardian.”
The Times Guide to English Style and Usage says this:
“Too many capital letters are ugly. Capitals interrupt the passage of the eye along a line. They are often unnecessary, especially with non-proper nouns such as government or ministry. Struggle to avoid them unless to do so looks absurd. If in doubt use lower case.”
And if you’re still not convinced, we’ll leave the last word to the University of Oxford style guide.
“Use capitals for titles prefixing names, but not for job descriptions. Note that some job descriptions are never used with names, such as ‘prime minister’. Although being president of the United States is stressful, President Obama was glad to be re-elected. The prime minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the leader of the party that wins the most seats. The Right Honourable David Cameron MP is the current prime minister. The current pope, Pope Francis, is Argentine.”
So what’s with the obsession?
And, fellow copywriters, let us know in the comments if you’ve found a profession that’s particularly guilty of this.