Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

like "He", "His", "Thy", "the Creator", "the Omnipotent", etc.

What is the origin of this practice? When should I capitalise words like this? for any deity? only the deity of the Abrahamic faiths?

share|improve this question
1  
Closely related: When should the word “God” be capitalized? –  Mehper C. Palavuzlar Apr 25 '11 at 6:55

1 Answer 1

up vote 3 down vote accepted

There are sort of two categories here- your first three examples are pronouns, while the latter two are epithets. Traditionally, epithets are capitalized for any individual, be they god, godess, Greek hero, or office worker. Epithets are grand titles that go beyond mere descriptive phrases, standing in for the name of the individual. For instance, an epic might start using "Father of Waters" any place it would name Poseidon.

Capitalizing pronouns is a bit different- from the best of my observations, pronouns are only capitalized when referring to the Abrahamic deity, but it is simply a convention used to respect and set apart God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit from any other male that might be in the setting. It is certainly grammatically acceptable to leave any such pronouns in lowercase- indeed some translations of the Bible do this. It should be noted, however, that if you do so, you may confuse and quite honestly upset members of those faiths.

share|improve this answer
1  
Plus (at least in the old testament) the Abrahamic God has certain anger management issues. Does anyone know her feelings on the matter? –  mgb Apr 25 '11 at 3:43
    
That was actually going to be a suggestion of mine- I know some more persnickety Christians do not appreciate it when pronouns are not capitalized, and I know that Judaism has rules for how to handle God's name (YHWH, the tetragammaton), but I'm not sure if Judaism has any rules for treatment of pronouns referring to God. It'd be wise to ask a rabbi if you're going to be addressing anything towards members of the Jewish faith. –  matthias Apr 25 '11 at 3:50
    
I'm sure the reason isn't religious. Hebrew (or Arabic, for Muslims) doesn't have capitalised letters. –  Louis Rhys Apr 25 '11 at 3:53
    
@Martin: His feelings, not her. In answer, I don't think he ever says whether he wants his name capitalized. Especially since English as we know it did not exist back then. I believe that it is done as a sign of respect. –  John Apr 25 '11 at 3:55
    
Good point, though I'm sure someone thought about how to respectfully adapt their writings to other languages. –  matthias Apr 25 '11 at 3:56

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.