Standard Usage

In a stack of papers called Unorganized.

  • Jun
  • 01
  • 2006

This was originally going to be added to my last posting, but it grew longer and longer. Instead of cut things out, I preserved my thoughts here for posterity. I’d draw a comic of this, but I’m not Kevin or Sutter, so just make due with my mental comic drawing skills as exhibited in this little snippet of dialogue.

Close up on ad for “itapE.” Ad reads: watch video from your phone! and has a picture of a guy looking at the camera while pointing at his phone and smiling in a most appealing fashion

Pull back from ad to reveal PERSON A walking up to PERSON B, who is standing around, waiting for the bus

Person A: “Have you seen iTape?”

enter PERSON C, walking slowly and watching a video on his cell phone

Person B: “No, I haven’t, but have you seen Itape?”

noticing PERSON C, PERSON B high fives PERSON C

Person C (looking up): “Hey, I found the coolest thing: ITape!”

PERSON A and PERSON B exchange glances

Person B: “Wait… are those all the same thing?”

all PERSONS are confused, possibly scratching (their own) heads for effect

<whine>Related to a focus on communication, I’m growing tired of these companies playing with capitalization as if it’s something that will grab our attention. I think Apple started all this nonsense with the iPod and iBook, but it’s out of control. It’s played out and, really, it only makes things more complicated as we try to remember to cater to each company’s capricious whim. I don’t remember a company more simply because I have to begin the product with a lowercase letter. If anything, it makes me dislike the company.

I just went through this process with scanR. Do I capitalize the “s”? The “r” is capitalized? It’s not “scanner”? Too much of an association with the Cronenberg film?

Punctuation comes into play, too. Don’t forget to end Yahoo! with an exclamation mark. “Do you use Yahoo!?” Is that the right way to punctuate it? But that looks terrible. And incorrect. And insistent, if you interpret the punctuation to imply emotion. Please! They have the double pain of atypical punctuation and capitalization. I love that site, but it’s aggravating to type that out every time.

Then, there’s capitalization. Yahoo! has a service called SiteBuilder. Of course, MapQuest is another popular one, but surely MySpace trumps even them. There are several other names out there that are single words rising from the combination of two words, retaining the original capitalization. CampusGRID goes a step further and capitalizes all letters in the second half of the name.

And none of this helps people remember the name and it’s nothing that makes the company stand out anymore. These companies only stick out in that they have a pesky spelling to recall when the time comes to write about them, not because they have a cool service to provide. Remembering that pesky spelling is more of an inconvenience than anything. It certainly doesn’t convince me to use their products more often.

I regularly have to tell my students, “Check with the site. Is that how you spell it?” That’s not a bad thing to do, check your source and confirm facts, but it’s a hassle when there are so many variations of the ways things are spelled, punctuated, and capitalized. As I tell students, this is the reason English usage rules are important: so we have a consistent way to communicate. Without that consistency, we all might as well have our own language that may or may not be understood by anyone else.

So I beg of you, wayward designer who found yourself on this site slapped together by a high school English teacher, don’t create another product with funky spelling. Just create a product that kicks ass and let us remember the name of it, spelling it the way we would anything else. If communication is key, we should communicate to each other in a common language.</whine>

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