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It is the same with Diesel, which can be capitalised or not. Do the words Reich and Kaiser have some specific historic value as they are distinguished from non-capitalised words such as halt, ozone, heroin, nickel, semester, etc?

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In the U.S., at least, we don't capitalize diesel unless referring to the inventor of the engine. –  Robusto Aug 31 '11 at 12:42
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Because it's my name :) –  Ryan Reich Aug 31 '11 at 19:02
    
Or the clothing brand –  Matt Эллен Aug 31 '11 at 19:12
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4 Answers

Firstly, it's not as homogeneous as you'd believe it: the New Oxford American Dictionary, for example, doesn't use the capital for kaiser unless it's an official title (see #2).

Secondly, titles typically become capitalized when they become part of a person’s name. So, it would be “the queen was not amused”, but “he said Queen Victoria was not amused”.

Thirdly, names of sovereign states (whether in the present or in the past) are usually capitalized too. So, you’d say “he has nostalgia for the Reich” (implicitly, “the Third Reich”) as you would say “Austria was then part of the Holy Roman Empire”.

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Actually, some would say that the first should be "The Queen was not amused", particularly if there is only one queen that could be referred to (and doubly so if it happens to be your queen). –  T.E.D. Aug 31 '11 at 13:08
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Reich and Kaiser are German words, which always capitalises nouns. Since the English language has equivalent words (empire or nation for Reich, and emperor for Kaiser), they are typically reserved to describe the German empire and the German emperor, respectively.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaiser

In English, the term the Kaiser is usually reserved for the Emperors of the German Empire, the emperors of the Austrian Empire and those of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. During the First World War, the term the Kaiser—especially as applied to Wilhelm II of Germany—gained considerable pejorative connotations in English-speaking countries.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reich

Reich is a German word cognate with the English rich, but also used to designate an empire, realm, or nation. The qualitative connotation from the German is "(imperial,) sovereign state." It is the word traditionally used for a variety of sovereign entities, including Germany in many periods of its history.

Diesel comes from Rudolf Diesel, the inventor of that fuel the Diesel engine. I guess it is usually written in lower-case because it's still in use today around the world, and is common enough to be written according to the normal language capitalisation rules. Reich and Kaiser, however, describing purely historical entities, remain capitalized only.

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Just because the words are capitalized in German doesn't mean that we do, or should, capitalize them in English. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Aug 31 '11 at 14:01
    
@shiny: I think the main point is that "Since the English language has equivalent words they are typically reserved to describe the German empire and the German emperor[...]" (proper nouns, titles of people etc) –  horatio Aug 31 '11 at 14:17
    
It's true that just because all nouns are capitalised in German doesn't mean that German noun loanwords in English should or MUST be: but I think the author's point is that this is probably ONE influencing factor for them being capitalised. –  Neil Coffey Aug 31 '11 at 15:11
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Reich is the name of a specific German government. Kaiser is a title, and as such designates a specific person. This makes them both roughly akin to a person's name. We call words like this proper nouns. Proper nouns are capitalized in English.

Thus they are capitalized for roughtly the same reason we capitalize Democrats, and Republicans, and Fred Jones.

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Kaiser and Reich, whether capitalized or not, are not proper nouns. Nor are Democrat and Republican. –  F'x Aug 31 '11 at 13:08
    
You might theoretically call them 'proper pronouns'? (See my answer). –  TimLymington Aug 31 '11 at 13:10
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I think you're focussing on the wrong thing. Proper nouns are capitalized, common nouns are not; many words (in the sense of collections of letters) can be both in different circumstances. So Elizabeth II is the Queen of England, and 'the Queen', in British English, almost always refers to her. But there have been many queens (small q) in history. Similarly "the Kaiser approved submarine warfare in 1915" refers to (and could be replaced by) Wilhelm II, while "the kaiser was obliged to take the advice of the chancellor" refers to the post itself (or possibly all holders of it). The fuel is diesel; Diesel is the inventor or a clothing company like Levi's.

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