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Copy Editors Leaping from Bridges? Could Be a Sign of 'The Times'


I noticed in a New York Times piece today that the the New York Times called itself The New York Times, with a capital T.

I noticed it because, in my copy editing work it seems I spend about half a day every day lowercasing the T in "the." In running text, my stylebook says, you lowercase it -- even if it's part of a proper name.

"There will be a tribute show to the Beatles at the Venetian starring members of the Who reading from the Holy Bible and the Wall Street Journal."

It took me a while to get used to this style convention. But now I'm way used to it. The alternative, to me, looks like crap.

"There will be a tribute show to The Beatles at The Venetian starring members of The Who reading from The Holy Bible and The Wall Street Journal."

No doubt, some will disagree. But to me, all those capital Ts interrupt the visual flow of the sentence. Still, it's not my call. I just do what the style guide tells me -- whichever style guide I happen to be bound to that moment. And the style guide I've been working out of says lowercase that T in running text.

The sassy New York Times, however, loves to defy conventions observed by other publications. Most notably, the New York Times' style guide says to use an apostrophe in numeric decades: 1980's. Most other pubs scoff at that decision, taking the position that 1980s poses no potential for confusion that would justify the apostrophe.

I agree, by the way. I'm all for apostrophes in a sign like "CD'S ON SALE TODAY." But I see no benfit for it in 1980s. Still, I just does what they tells me.

Anyway, inspired by the observation, I searched the New York Times archive for the term "the Los Angeles Times." The search is not case sensitive. Sure enough, the New York Times capitalizes T in "The Los Angeles Times," as well as in its own paper.

In some uses, this didn't look so bad -- especially where the "the" might be modifying something other than the newspaper name, i.e.: "based a book by the Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez" Personally, I think they should have ditched the "the" altogether. But who am I tell the mightiest paper publishing since the "1800's" what to do?

Some of the New York Times' uses of a capital T in The Los Angeles Times looked really bad:

"And The Los Angeles Times's Jerry Crowe takes a look back at how the Lakers can trace their roots ..."

The position right after the capital A in And is yucky. The resulting string of capitals is super-yucky: A, T, L, A, T, J, C. -- all in a row.

Then, after searching the New York Times for references to the Los Angeles Times, I searched the Los Angeles Times for references to the New York Times. Yup. Lowercase Ts for all.

I saw this coming because most of my copy editing work these days follows Los Angeles Times style. So I knew the guide says to lowercase these Ts in running text.

But the LA paper's style guide make one exception. Even in running text, The Times takes a capital T in The. And, no, "The Times" in their pages never means a paper out of New York.

So if you ever see me doing anything crazy, like screaming at a pharmacist to give me meds or gouging my eyes out with a red pen, chalk it up to a sign of "The Times."

14 Comment count
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Oh, &*%@!, I've been doing

Oh, &*%@!, I've been doing this wrong all this time. I thought "the" was part of the title and, thus, needed to be upper case regardless of where in a sentence it appeared.

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You haven't been doing it wrong

There is no wrong. Either way is acceptable.

But the common style rule applies even when the The is part of the proper name.  I suspect it's an aesthetic thing -- or at least that that was the original intent.

Newspapers have to be kinda careful about letting others mess around in their pages. That's why there's no star in Macy*s, companies that spell their names in all caps aren't gonna appear in all caps, and k.d. lang may or may not be K.D. Lang.

I think newspapers believe they have to maintain autonomy in their own pages and that's why they don't let others -- especially Joe's AWESOME HOMESTYLE Rib Shack -- make all these calls for them.

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But what about...

...the '80s (not '80's) group the The?

For what it's worth, I don't think The New York Times should capitalize "the" when referrring to the Los Angeles Times, since "the" isn't even part of the latter paper's name.

Huntington Sharp, Red Room

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I loved The The!

Remember that album with the image of the dove of peace skewered on a sword? What was that song I loved? Ah, yes. The one that went, "If the real Jesus Christ were to come back today, he'd be gunned down cold by the CIA." 

Style rules are usually vaguely written,  allowing for judgment calls but also creating confusion.

The question is: is the first "the" in The The truly an article, or is it part of a repetitive combo that forms something bigger.

 If I were editing an article mentioning this band, I'd capitalize both Ts because I believe they create an effect greater than just that of an article.

Your editor experience may vary.

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...Matt Johnson, who pretty much is The The, has got a website. He was never not political, but he's really gone for it now.

Huntington Sharp, Red Room

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Most pubs I know prefer Ts to T's but ...

In the Los Angeles Times, they write, "The student got A's and Bs." Apostrophe in one case, none in the other.

Their reason: Except for possessives and contractions, the only other use for an apostrophes is to avoid confusion. Because A plus S spells a word, they feel that an apostrophe helps. But B plus S don't spell a word (insert your own joke here). So they see it as different.

There's no consensus on that stuff, though.

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This reminds me.... What do

This reminds me....

What do Kermit the Frog and John the Baptist have in common?

Their middle name.



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And Smokey The Bear. BtW,

And Smokey The Bear.

BtW, since "The" is a name, it takes a capitol.

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The and the


Thank you very much for this blog. This is very educational to me. I'm fascinated to learn how native speakers feel about style, and how they make decisions on language.

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Thank you, Keiko!

As a copy editor, I don't really have to make decisions. I just do what the style guides tell me. It's a huge relief. If nothing else, it proves that no one else knows this stuff, either.

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Fun with Language


I love this kind of discussion. I hope you're collecting these blogs for your next book.

I had this issue with my prior company, which did business as the Red Room Writers Society. It needed a "the" but I wasn't sure when, other than at the beginning of a sentence, to capitalize it. I think you're absolutely right the answer would be never.

I'd also love to see you write a piece about lowercase website names and what to do with them at the beginning of sentences and bullet points and in other contexts. Guy Kawasaki says he regrets having his venture firm do business as "garage.com" (Garage Technology Ventures), because he never knew whether to capitalize it at the beginning of a sentence or not. I've had this problem with our current company, which does business as "Red Room" and is also correctly known as "redroom.com" (and in fact, when people mention it on the web or in print we want to make sure they mention the URL redroom.com, whether they refer to the company as the URL or not) and legally belonging to the entity "Red Room Omnimedia Corporation."

By the way, back when I did corporate training on writing and editing, I wrote a 75-page handbook for clients, which took a few months and gave me an excuse to re-read all the major copy editing and style guides in preparation. Thanks for reminding me how much I love this stuff.

Ivory Madison
Founder & CEO

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Wow. Lots of good questions.

Well, there is no rule for when and whether to capitalize stuff like web addresses at the beginnings of sentences. Everyone just plays it by ear. But the publications that crank out the most print, and that most have their acts together, shoot for: 1. consistency and 2. readability.

To a lot of editors, consistency dictates that URLs in running text be all lowercase: "She frequents redroom.com." (That's been a lesson hard-learned from all the webmasters who love to mess with caps: TheBEAStdamnsiteINDAwerld.com. I wouldn't put that in my paper.)

 Consistency also suggests to many that, at the beginnings of sentences,  normally lower-case stuff gets uppercased. So, though I don't recall ever seeing it, I'd say it's: "Redroom.com is a site she frequents."

For bullet points, I'd say just treat them as any other words and follow Chicago style on bulleted lists. (That's easy for me to say. Bulleted lists are pretty confusing.) I would uppercase the first letter of the URL only if each bulleted item forms a complete sentence:

Our corporation advocations these policies:

* Redroom.com should be the homepage on all employees' browers.

* Google.com may be used by some.

* * * * * * * * * * * * but * * * *

Our corporation requires employees to bookmark:

* redroom.com

* google.com

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Re names that are not URLs. A lot of people have that problem: They're both The Container Store and thecontainerstore.com. I 'spose you just emphasize whichever one you most want to be known -- in Red Room's case, definitely the URL.

Style is both fun and SO frustrating. I work out of the AP Stylebook and the Chicago Manual and the Los Angeles Times stylebook, which is a we-do-it-our-own-way variation on AP. But at least it's not as fussy as New York Times style. Anyway, keeping track of them is makin' me cuckoo-nutty. But, in that regard, it also serves as a convenient excuse for any unrelated cuckoo-nuttiness.

: ) 

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Using the capitol fits me to

Using the capitol fits me to a T. I am not at 6's and 9's about it.